Brooklyn Daily Eagle Columnist Rian James Shares His Picks For The Best Restaurants in New York City in 1929
Rian James (1899-1953) may not be a well known name today, but back in the 1920s and 30s, he was a widely read journalist and “man about town.”
In 1933 James took a stab at writing for the movies. He wrote the screenplay for 42nd Street, one of the most successful and popular films of the 1930s. James would go on to write over three dozen screenplays.
As a columnist for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle from 1928-1935, James rambled all around New York City. Along the way James hobnobbed with everyone: the well-to-do, the hoi-polloi, actors, and bohemians, in the process, hitting all the night spots. The stories James gathered made for a widely read column about the city he loved.
Four times a year the Eagle published a small guide Going Places With Rian James casting his top picks in New York City food and entertainment.
For the Summer 1929 Going Places, a good portion of James’ 32 page booklet is devoted to dining. Unlike the modern Zagat restaurant guides or Yelp, consensus was not considered. The only thing that mattered was James’ opinion. James knew all the “in” places, the haunts of celebs, the exclusive, the ribald and the popular.
Proving he’s no snob, the best New York restaurant according to James is not at a high class hotel or Madison Avenue establishment. It’s Feltman’s, originator of the hotdog, in Coney Island that wins the prize. James writes, “The best all-round food in all New York, excluding no place.”
This is a New York booklet written for New Yorkers.
James offers a unique slice of the New York dining scene just prior to the October 1929 stock market crash and the onset of the Great Depression. The good times were to end soon after.
While there were a ton of contemporary guidebooks published about New York City, very few delved into the restaurant scene. James’ punchy one line descriptions tell you a lot more than many a detailed review.
The writing has some jazz age jargon such as “Beeway” for Broadway and “black and tan” for an establishment that has race mingling between Blacks and Caucasians. Sometimes there’s an “inside”, long forgotten, or even a risque reference such as this one:
BARNEY’S – 85 W. 3rd St.
The best bet for whoopee in the Village.
In other words, where you have the best chance of hooking up.
James later wrote several full length books about New York City: a full guidebook All About New York An Intimate Guide; John Day (1931) and another not surprisingly titled, Dining in New York; John Day (1934).
While you peruse this list, you may recognize some names long gone from New York’s glorious culinary past. Other eateries you never heard of just sound like they would have been a blast to visit.
What is stunning in the transient world of dining, is that there are a small number of restaurants that are still in business nearly 90 years later.
We have left Rian James’ spelling, grammar and punctuation as it is written in the booklet.
So with that, here is Rian James’ New York City’s restaurant recommendations for the summer of 1929, divided into his appropriate section headings in bold.
Restaurants of All Nations
Name Address Nation
L’AIGLON – 55th, E. of Fifth Ave. French
Complete French Cuisine.LUCHOWS – 110 E. 14th St. German
Complete German Cuisine. Try the German Rye Bread. Continue reading