When I posted this photo in my Faux-Dora post this summer, a couple of readers weighed in on the origins of the sugar bowl marked with the name Oscar's and how it ended up at Fedora's.
Mark said, "The bowls are seconds from Oscar's Salt of the Sea, a wonderful restaurant on Third Avenue and 63rd Street, long gone. Barbra Streisand lived in the tenement above the restaurant before she made it on Broadway. It was a great place, with Irish waitresses in uniform and Oscar himself, dressed all in black, greeting his customers and sharing a drink with them."
But Anonymous disagreed, saying, "The sugar bowls are from Delmonico's as are the plates on the wall. Fedora was Mary Tucci's closest friend since birth...they are both from Montecatini...and both Henry and Fedora worked at Delmonico's. Oscar Tucci owned Delmonico's and the Oscar referred to is him. Mary used to give Fedora the china when Delmonico's changed theirs. You could eat off of Delmonico's plates at Fedora but, alas, most are broken."
A Dorato family member confirmed that the bowl came from Delmonico's, but "Oscar's Salt of the Sea" made me curious. So I hunted around and found an old menu on Ebay, complete with a Trafalgar phone exchange and a drawing of the restaurant beneath the El's shadows.
Aside from the Barbra Streisand lore that Mark shared, there is more history there.
According to Sesame Street Unpaved, "The character of Oscar was inspired by a nasty waiter" from Oscar's. "Jim Henson and Jon Stone were waited on by a man who was so rude and grouchy that he surpassed annoying and started to actually amuse... their waiter forever became immortalized as the world's most famous Grouch."
Some of the original muppet designs are drawn on Oscar's paper placemats.
Oscar's was around a long time (anyone know how long?), and much like Fedora's had become a beloved relic by the 1980s after Oscar Karp retired.
The New York Times in 1982 wrote: "Oscar's handsome, modern dining rooms, with their natural wood paneling and photographs of fishing schooners, still attract older couples who eat lunch out or have an early dinner. They order the $6.95 lunch specials and the dinners from $10.95 to $13.95 or the early-bird specials served from 4 to 6 P.M. for $8.95... Waiters and waitresses are friendly and willing, but they are careless and forgetful."
By 1988, Oscar's had been replaced by Le Laurier, "a posh all-seafood restaurant of burnished teak, polished service and often precious food: this is about as different from Oscar's Salt of the Sea as Donald Trump's yacht is from the Circle Line...It has the same warm, corporate look with a coffered ceiling, inset lights, well-separated tables and soft leather banquettes." New York described Le Laurier as serving haute French cuisine, with a prix fixe of $46--a far cry from Oscar's early birdies.
As far as I can tell, Le Laurier didn't last very long.
photo: New York Magazine
Just opened, the new restaurant in the old Fedora space is also posh and burnished, as polished as a yacht, with a long leather banquette--a far cry from what used to be. As for the sugar bowls with Oscar's name on them--is there a vortex where such lost artifacts end up? If we look hard, we might find them there.
photo: Daniel Krieger for Eater (see more)