Lüchow’s: America’s Most Famous German Restaurant

By on Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Located at 14th Street in New York City, Lüchow's dominated the celeb dining scene from 1882 until the 1970s.

If the atmosphere of a restaurant could be described by one word, the word for Lüchow’s would have to be gemütlichkeit. (Definition: good-natured, jolly, agreeable, cheerful, hearty, comfortable, cozy, snug…Germans are big on adjectives). It was New York’s quintessential German restaurant—the aroma of sweet and sour German cooking, the thin wafts of smoke from rare cigars, the hearty laughter of patrons enjoying themselves, and the music of the Vienna Quartet reached out to embrace all who entered.

Located at 14th Street, facing Irving Place, which was the center for the arts in New York at that time, it was a restaurant devoted to good living, which was just what big, good-natured August Guido Lüchow, who founded the restaurant in 1882 wanted it to be. The food was authentic, the beer, Würzburger, and the wine cellar was stocked with only the finest European wines.

The food was authentic, the beer, Würzburger, and the wine cellar was stocked with only the finest European wines.

Generation after generation of musicians, writers, actors, politicians and financiers—such luminaries as O. Henry, H.L.Mencken, Lillian Russell, Theodore Roosevelt  (yes, that  Theodore Roosevelt who later became President)  as well as  Paderosky, Caruso, Richard Strauss, Victor Herbert, Irving Berlin, Richard Rogers just to name a few, were regular patrons. The Bohemian Club was organized there in one of the private rooms as was the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.

William Steinway, distinguished head of the famous piano company ate lunch there in an upstairs room regularly at noon with senior executives from his firm. The forty-five-cent lunch, which began with 12 oysters, could last as long as three hours.

The main dining room, as well as the private rooms for those who wanted to entertain guests had only one dress code —a guest could not enter “mitaus” a tie. Only fine wines and beer were served there. Those who wished to have hard liquor were served in the Gentlemen’s Grille, a separate room on the same floor.

Good Help


The waiters were men of strong mind and trustworthy. They advised the guests about the food in the kitchen and if something was no longer available, they were not above taking the menu back and striking it out with a pencil before returning it.

Some patrons, like William Steinway, (who had loaned August Lüchow money to buy the restaurant) entertained famous musicians from around the world at elegant dinners in the private rooms. Others, like Diamond Jim Brady had more robust banquets where twenty ladies of the chorus were engaged to be company for his dinner guests.  At the table, each lady would find, tucked in her dinner napkin, $500 plus a piece of diamond jewelry.

Fine Beer, First-Rate Events

In 1885, Lüchow’s became the authorized agent in the United States for Würzburger, a fine amber colored beer from upper Bavaria. It was considered the ultimate accompaniment to such German dishes as pig’s knuckles and sauerkraut, potato dumplings, beefsteak and cheese. When a shipment arrived, the beer had to rest in the cooler for at least three days before it could be served. It was maintained at a cellar temperature of 40 degrees. If a guest wanted beer colder than that, the beer was not chilled further—the mug or seidel in which it was served was chilled!

Throughout the year there were week-long festivals, each with its own traditions.

The Bock Beer festival in March was the herald of spring. For three evenings the German band played old songs and the menu featured traditional foods of the season: bockwurst, liver dumplings, liver sausage, roast ham, pigs’ knuckles and pheasant on wine kraut.

The Goose feast in December was a gourmet’s delight—appetizers, marinated herring, soup made from goose giblets and barley, consommé with dumplings; goose ragout  and potato dumplings, and finally, the roast goose served with stewed apples and cranberries.

A sentimental tribute to the Old Country, the May Wine festival celebrated spring and love. Vine leaves and grapes were draped around the restaurant, the German band played spring music and the traditional dessert—cabinet pudding with May wine sauce was served. It was based on a custom in Rhineland where boys and girls, holding hands, walked from town to town sampling the May wine of the vineyards.

Lüchow’s May Wine

6 bunches of woodruff
½ pound powdered sugar
1 cup cognac
4 quarts Moselle or Rhine wine
ice
2 quarts champagne or charged water
1 cup fresh strawberries

Place herbs in large bowl with sugar, cognac, 1 quart wine.  Cover bowl; let stand overnight. To serve, strain mixture, pour ice in a large punch bowl, and add remaining three quarts Rhine wine. Add champagne or charged water. Float strawberries in bowl. Serves 10 to 15.

Perhaps the most cherished tradition of all was Christmas.

A 25-foot tree was erected in the café trimmed with 500 electric candles, 19th-century German toys, and underneath, a holy village, all hand carved in Oberammergau in Bavaria. The orchestra played Christmas carols and the diners sang along.  At six o’clock on Christmas Eve, the lights were turned down low and the orchestra played Silent Night.

The Christmas menu was always the same—oxtail soup, boiled carp, roast goose with chestnut stuffing, creamed onions, pumpernickel, plum pudding with brandy sauce, and ice cream.

Life After August

When August Lüchow died in 1923, he left a legacy of a restaurant dedicated to authentic German cooking and good living.  Both his successors, a nephew-in-law, Victor Eckstein and a 33-year-old Swedish restaurateur, Jan Mitchell, remained true to its heritage.

Victor Eckstein managed to keep the gemütlickeit during the Prohibition years when the Würzburger could not flow. On the day in May 1933, when Prohibition was lifted, 1,000 people came to Lüchow’s to celebrate. They consumed 1,000 seidels of Würzburger (eight half-barrels).

In 1950, Jan Mitchell persuaded Victor Eckstein to sell Lüchow’s to him with the promise to preserve the atmosphere and traditions of Lüchow’s, which he did. In 1952, he recorded the history of the restaurant he cherished, complete with the original German recipes.  Lüchow’s German Cookbook is now out of print, but well worth searching for at old book sales.

On the day in May 1933, when Prohibition was lifted, 1,000 people came to Lüchow’s to celebrate. They consumed 1,000 seidels of Würzburger (eight half-barrels).

He sold Lüchow’s in 1970, but the restaurant was never the same. Union Square was no longer the heart of the theater district, and by 1980 the area was surrounded by empty buildings. In 1976 Mimi Sheraton, a restaurant critic for The New York Times, visited the restaurant and found the food “dreary.” In 1982 a suspicious fire, which the fire department could never explain, destroyed the building and efforts of preservationists to gain landmark status failed.

Although the new owners moved the restaurant uptown to Broadway near Times Square, the food and the atmosphere were never quite the same.  It closed in 1986.

Editor’s Note: Lüchow’s German Cookbook was not only an invaluable source of information for this article, but many of its recipes are spectacular  and readily adaptable to today’s tastes and ingredients. Click here for Smoked Salmon in Cocotte.

Written by Satenig St. Marie

Satenig St. Marie is a writer and historian based in Connecticut.

45 Comments

  1. Donna Pizzi says:

    I moved to Greenwich Village as a teen in the late 60s to study acting with Uta Hagen. I remember Luchow’s and the impression it made on me the first time I ate there. My best friend had been given tickets to the Met Opera by her grandfather. I had purchased a dress from Klein’s right there on Union Square. It was brocade! We later returned to Union Square to dine sumptuously at Luchows, whose ornate interior, and heavy German food made me reel and my brocade dress swell. We emerged from the restaurant happy and excited eagerly hailing a cab for the ride uptown to the Met. Thanks for this trip down memory lane!

  2. I not only enjoyed this article but also the story about Erika`s
    introduction to this restaurant.
    I remember ,well, the period
    when her mother worked for the UN and I know how much she would have embraced the
    Luchow experience.

  3. John says:

    Part of my childhood was our annual trek to Luchow’s – usually during the Christmas season when they had an enormous Christmas tree set up.

    The place was right out of Hello Dolly; in fact I think that Luchow’s was what they had in mind when staging the big production number of the same name.

    Right before a mysterious fire in the early 80s Luchow’s had spent a lot of money renovating, so everyone was especially shocked when it closed down.

  4. Toque remembers Luchow's; writer/historian Satenig St. Marie reveals what it was like to dine there. New post; http://tinyurl.com/2egh44d

  5. Erika Kotite says:

    Toque remembers Luchow's; writer/historian Satenig St. Marie reveals what it was like to dine there. New post; http://tinyurl.com/2egh44d

  6. Lüchow’s: America’s Most Famous German Restaurant. Great story on @toquemag. Learned the word gemütlichkeit http://bit.ly/bKmLHy

  7. [...] thuggish Fritz Kuhn), New York’s many German eateries flourished well into the 60′s. Luchow’s, of course, was one of the city’s greatest restaurants and did honor to the best traditions [...]

  8. Helen says:

    I recently found a beige and dark blue ashtray with a beer stein in the center that had the marking Luchow’s Restaruant Since 1882, New York City. It was amongst my late father-inlaw’s belongings and thought I would offer to send it to the current owners as a piece of memorabilia. I suspect it is from the 1950′s when my father-in-law use to travel to NYC to attend baseball games. I was dismayed to find out that it had closed. Helen

  9. Pat says:

    Anyone know what the values of the brass ashtrays from the Diamond Jim Brady room are? Or where I can find out some info.
    Thanks

  10. yvette says:

    I was given a hanging plate that was hand painted for Luchows with the address and name printed on the back of the plate, from a long gone neighbor. Does anyone know if it holds any value?

  11. Erika Kotite says:

    One possible source for finding value on Luchow items is worthpoint.com. I used them to appraise a vintage telescope–for about $20 a selected appraiser will value based on your photos.

  12. Ed Luettchau (pronounced Luchow) says:

    was a great experience to dine there in the 70″s, especally when i told them my name was Luettchau.Got funny looks from the waiters , but made my dining like in a family reasturant

  13. linda says:

    My Opa was the chef there mostly when Jan Mitchell was there What wonderufl stories he would tell. Lovely place

  14. Erika Kotite says:

    Thanks for letting us know that, Linda. By any chance do you have photos of Opa at the restaurant?

  15. Liz says:

    I bought a pewter mug today from a thrift store that appears to be from Luchows. I will be displaying it at my pub.

  16. Erika Kotite says:

    Hi Liz, please send us a photo and we’ll post it on our Facebook page. erika@toquemag.com. What a great find!

  17. Evelyn says:

    Linda I have an original Luchow’s menu and postcard. I would like to give it to someone who would enjoy it. I was going through my parents’ library and pictures when I found them. I would really like someone to have them since they are in near perfect condition. Will mail them to you or anyone else who would like to preserve them.

  18. Erika Kotite says:

    Hi Evelyn,
    That is so very generous of you. Checking with the author of that article, to see if perhaps there are any collectors or museums who might be interested. Thank you.

  19. Evelyn says:

    Thanks Erika! I hope someone wants to preserve them.

  20. Erika Kotite says:

    Dear Evelyn,
    The Greater Astoria Historical Society says they would absolutely love to have them. Kindly send to this address and they will reimburse you for postage:
    Bob Singleton
    Greater Astoria Historical Society
    35-20 Broadway
    LIC, NY 11106

    Erika

  21. Pat says:

    Have original brass ashtray from the Diamond Jim Brady room, can anyone tell me the value if any

  22. susan says:

    Xmas eve dinner was a spectacular event. Both delicious and beautiful visually.

  23. Andrea says:

    Luchow’s was _the_ place to celebrate major occasions in our family. The last time I was there was January 31, 1969, for my wedding dinner. Thank you for this lovely article allowing me to reminisce.

  24. RickT says:

    I purchased a ceramic ashtray today at a consignment store in Seekonk Massachusetts. It has a small beer stein in the middle of it and it definetly comes from Luchow’s. I collect beer steins and it’s a perfect addition.
    regards,
    Rick

  25. JOY KAMPING SERINO says:

    MY FONDEDT MEMORIES WERE SEEING A SHOW ON 14 ST WITH MY GRAND MA, AND THEN GOING TO LUCHOWS FOR DINNER, I WILL NEVER FORGET THOSE WONDERFUL TIMES, IT WAS A DIFFERANT WORLD THAT WE WILL NEVER SEE AGAIN.

  26. Russ Bleil says:

    As a young man I remember going there for dinner at Christmas time. It was magical. This is a place where memories are made and great times are remembered forever. The food was unbelievable and the ambience was incredible. We have nothing today that can begin to compare. Luchow’s was a place never to be forgotten. Today it exists only in my memory and my copy of their cookbook.

  27. Linda Bendix French says:

    My father lived in Mt.Vernon, N.Y.as a child growing up in a German household and spoke often as we we re growing up about Luchow’s. His parents would often take him to the opera every weekend and they would go to Luchow’s for dinner. My grandfather had reserved seating with a nameplate I believe . He was a business man in New York and was a routine customer at the restaurant daily for lunch.. At Christmas my father’s family always went to Luchow’s. When my father spoke of Christmas a magical smile came over him remembering the beauty of the restaurant.. He also stated they had a model train that ran over-head around the restaurant which too was quite magical for most of the children in attendance. It just seemed “enchanting.”

  28. Erika Kotite says:

    What a beautiful remembrance. Thank you for sharing, Linda.

  29. PATRICK SHEEHAN says:

    When I lived in Washington,D.C. circa 1970 the rave was to go to NYC and see the “Fantastics” off Broadway musical. What a great show, but the real treat was going to Luchow’s after the show. It was my first experience and has lasted me all these years. I still make Luchow’s recipe for Sauerbraten for my friends on special occasions. Thanks for the history lesson of Luchow’s

  30. Sandra Merchant says:

    Just ordered the cookbook through Amazon last night.

  31. Nancy Warren says:

    My husband and I are getting ready for a short trip to NY and I had visions of Luchow’s for dinner in my mind. My uncle lived in NY in the late 60s to early 80s. He took us to Luchow’s for a very memorable lunch in the mid 70s and I was hoping for the same for my hubby…I had just come across a menu, from our previous adventure, when going through some boxes from my deceased mother (and uncle) that sparked me to pull up the web site. Alas…

  32. Matt G says:

    I went to Luchows in the early 80′s with my parents. It was memorable because we met William Conrad the actor from the TV show Cannon. The place was always full of famous people. Great food and good cheer. It is a shame it’s gone!

  33. Tina Lüchow (Jensen - by marriage) says:

    Very interesting reading for me. August is my great great grandfathers brother. Hans Lüchow (Augusts nephew) was the vice President for the rest. And Hans is my great grandfather in direct line from my mother.
    August never had any children himself.
    My mother and I wish that we could have been there when the restaurant existed. It makes me proud to read about it.

  34. Erika Kotite says:

    Thank you for providing this family connection. It is gratifying to see how much interest there remains in the Luchow legacy. Do you still use some of the original recipes?

  35. Bob Ewald says:

    My grandparents were from Bavaria before settling in Manhattan. Luchow’s became the annual special dinner location usually around Christmas. I was fairly young then but I just recall how beautiful it was, how good the food, and what an overwhelming sense of family and tradition we had. I miss it.

  36. Tina Luchow says:

    Dear Erika
    Well we have the cook book that Jan Mitchell wrote. But my mother is a vegetarian :D
    But it makes me proud and happy to ready how many people visited the place.
    Kind regards from Denmark
    (The Lüchow descendants moved to Denmark)

  37. joseph r. miraglia says:

    It’s a shame that this era of fine dining had to fade away what we’re left with today is McDonalds and Burger King I wish we could bring back yesterday

  38. jack says:

    aged 89 born and raised on the lower east side Luchows was a dream that never came true for me but marvaled at it from the out side
    one of my big loses

    jack

  39. Nina says:

    My college boyfriend, first generation American, would take me to Luchow’s on dates. I’ll never forget the excitement of those dinners and his pride in the food served. A lovely piece for good memories of my visits there in the mid-sixties.

  40. Sharon says:

    My family and I went there for dinner at Christmas time in the late 60′s, and it seems to me that I remember a Christmas tree -upside down, and it was huge and so beautiful and the weiner schnitzel was out of this world.

  41. Karl Hormann says:

    Having spent most of my childhood in the (German) county of Luechow-Dannenberg, I was touched, when upon arrival at New York on 10 May 1960, I was taken to “Luchow’s” for lunch. Eight years later I took my four year old daughter there to have a huge Kaiserschmarrn (most of which I ate). & I just read the report of a man who not only visited & ate at Luchows in August of 1911 but was also carted about New York in August’s car. Memories are made of this, are they not?

  42. Stephen Clarke says:

    I have a menu stamped as “our 95th year” and will be coming over to the US in September. If the greater Astoria historical society would be interested in it? I was hoping to visit the restaurant for dinner with my wife, very sad to hear it is no longer there.

  43. Erika Kotite says:

    Hi Stephen that is very generous of you. We’ve sent a note to the historical society with your email address.

  44. Dawn Agosto says:

    Our family spent many Thanksgiving holiday dinners at Luchows. I recall the vanilla and chocolate ice cream molded dessert turkeys for the children. The orchestra played lovely music. The ladies room had gold plated faucets and the attendant handed us cloth towels. Wonderful memories!

  45. Tom Mackie says:

    Growing up in NYC, this is where I always asked to go on my birthday, always having Sauerbraten, red cabbage & potato dumplings…with extra gravy. My father would have the pig’s knuckles, and my mother would have the steak tartare with a depression in the center filled with a raw egg.
    For dessert, we would have one of their HUGE crepes served on a waters tray. At table side, the waiter would squeeze on a fresh lemon, followed by a compote of apples or blueberries and spread out like you would sauce on a pizza. Sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and deftly folded in thirds. Then drenched with a large jigger of warmed Kirchwasser and set alight, with each end being lifted alternately to allow the flames to reach underneath as well. Finally it was sprinkled with powdered sugar & divided into portions. In my case I would get half and my parents would divide up the other half. OMG…!

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