Banqueting at $herry’s*

In 1898 Sherry’s and Delmonico’s faced off on two corners of Fifth Avenue and 44th Street. Which would win the favor of New York City’s high society whose core membership was known as the Four Hundred? Even before Sherry’s boldly moved onto Delmonico’s turf it had been successfully poaching “Del’s” clientele. For a time there seemed to be enough elite diners to go around, but the days were numbered for both of New York City’s grand restaurants. Before too long each would suffer from the negative impact of Prohibition and World War I on food and drink and social life. Nonetheless many spectacular balls and dinners were still in store at Sherry’s before its demise.

Louis Sherry began his professional life in restaurants in New Jersey and New York in the 1870s, working as a waiter, then steward and head waiter at establishments such as the Hotel Brunswick. In 1881 he started a confectionery and catering business at Sixth Avenue and 38th Street where he supplied ice cream, cakes, and deluxe dinner party staples such as lobster, salmon, deviled crab, chicken salad, and terrapin. He soon opened a restaurant at the casino at Narragansett Pier, Rhode Island. His businesses grew, and he moved to Fifth Avenue at 37th Street, and when that became too small he commissioned Stanford White to design a multi-story restaurant with ballrooms and residential suites opposite Delmonico’s.

Although he has been singled out as one of the few American-born proprietors of a fine NYC restaurant at the turn of the 20th century, it is likely that he was a native of Canada rather than Vermont as is frequently reported. On several passport applications he attests that he was born in Quebec, in 1855.

Sherry was known for getting every detail right, particularly table appointments and decorations which could include everything from asparagus served in a hollowed out block of ice to tabletop forests and lakes (1908 dinner pictured). But from time to time the expense and elaborateness of his dinners prompted critics to call them symptoms of a decadent society. This was especially true of the $250 per person dinner on horseback given by C. G. K. Billings to 36 members of his Equestrian Club in 1903 – and the 1905 dinner for 500 guests costumed as 18th-century French royalty given by James H. Hyde where even the waiters wore powdered wigs.

In 1912 Sherry’s was hit hard by a restaurant workers’ strike which targeted the city’s top eating places. He professed indifference but bitterly cited “Bolshevik waiters” as one of the reasons for closing the restaurant and hotel in 1919 and moving up to 58th Street to continue with catering and confectionery. In 1921 Sherry joined a corporation headed by Lucius Boomer that opened a Sherry’s restaurant and candy shop at 300 Park Avenue. A subsidiary of the corporation owned the Sherry-Netherland Hotel. Sherry, who did not seem to be actively involved in these enterprises, died in 1926. Later, under a succession of owners, there were Louis Sherry restaurants in the Metropolitan Opera and the Philharmonic, while ice cream is still (or was until fairly recently?) produced under the Louis Sherry name.

* In The Real New York (1902), Rupert Hughes suggested that because the restaurant was so expensive, it’s name should be written this way.

© Jan Whitaker, 2010

10 Comments

Filed under elite restaurants

10 responses to “Banqueting at $herry’s*

  1. Fascinating information about Louis Sherry. I collect vintage cocktail stirers and just found a “Louis Sherry 300 Park Avenue New York” at a flea market in Massachusetts. I’ll treasure it more now having learned about the restaurant.

  2. susie

    In May of 1946 my mother, Mary Bell and my father Chapin Coit married and had their reception at Sherry’s. Is this the same place?

    • THE Sherry’s that was famous for hosting banquets and parties for NY’s “400” closed in the 1920s, and the Sherry’s that was recreated was not quite the same without Louis Sherry at the helm. Of course society as a whole had also changed.

  3. Ann Littlehale

    Great article! Now I know a lot about the restaurant! I have a menu from the “nightly curtain dinner” from the 1957-1958 season. Prices are up there! I also have the Metropolitan Operas New Years Eve – 1958 program. Would like to see someone who collects/or interested in have them. There is also a program/ book from 1950- Gala testimonial in honor of Edward Johnson Feb 28th. He was the General Manager of the Met. Opera Assoc. for 15 years. The pictures are wonderful. “Tosca” was performed. Interested? Just collecting dust! They need to move on! Love your blog!

  4. Anonymous

    I remember Louis Sherry chocolate boxes as hostess gifts. I treasured one (when I was a child, of course 😉 for years.

  5. Sherwin Harris

    Wonderful to run across this! (Thanks, Google)

    My father, Sherwin “Bucky” Harris was president of Louis Sherry’s in the 1950’s and also chairman of the board of Childs Restaurants.

    I still own an inlaid demilune bar from Sherry’s in the old opera house (now for sale), as well has some silver dessert bowls, and perhaps a couple of plates. And of course a number of Louis Sherry metal candy boxes. My dad is long gone, but I just started thinking about about the company & restaurant, and came across your article. Thank you.

  6. My Grandfather, Metthew Pupilla managed Louis Sherry’s. He had made President Teddy Roosevelt’s inaugural cake. I still have some of the beautiful tins that the fantastic chocolate came in. My mother also worked for the company.

  7. Jan:

    This is a fascinating piece of history to recover, its hard to imagine the excesses of the Age. I beleive that Delmonico’s also had an outpost in San Francisco. I share your fascination with this time period and cant quite imagine how diners survived those meals…

    Thanks for a great post!

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