Skip to content, or skip to search.

Skip to content, or skip to search.

Founding Fathers

The Odeon and Union Square Cafe would seem to have little in common other than the fact that they’re both celebrating anniversaries this month (25 and 20, to be exact). Yet each created not only a neighborhood—Tribeca and Union Square, respectively—but a new way of eating. Here, a look at the history of each.

ShareThis

Left: The waiters at the Odeon in the early eighties. Right: Danny Meyer outside Union Square Cafe. (Photos courtesy of the restaurants.)  

The Odeon
Genre created
Fine casual dining
Previous incarnation
A working-class cafeteria
In the beginning
“We weren’t serving lunch for the first week or two. Our first customer walked in, and we had to tell her the kitchen wasn’t ready to serve appetizers, but would she like a main course? Then we had to tell her the kitchen wasn’t ready to serve her main course. She got up and left.”—Lynn Wagenknecht, owner
Neighborhood tipping point
Robert De Niro opens Tribeca Film Center, 1989
The scene then
Calvin Klein, Madonna, Mary Boone, Andy Warhol, the original Saturday Night Live cast, John F. Kennedy Jr., Jay McInerney
The scene now
The Coen Brothers, Björk and Matthew Barney, Christy Turlington and Ed Burns, Kimora Lee Simmons
Well-worn story
The time John Belushi came in after-hours and made himself a burger
Still serving
Steak-frites (then, $9; now, $28)
This year’s model
Bette

Union Square Café
Genre created
Casual fine dining
Previous incarnation
A vitamin store and vegetarian restaurant
In the beginning
“Ten days after we opened, it was Halloween, and the parade used to end at the park. The bar area was five people deep—they were on roller skates, they were half-naked. Somebody attached a twelve-foot-tall papier-mâché penis to our awning that night. You don’t see that anymore.” —Danny Meyer, co-owner
Neighborhood tipping point
Zeckendorf apartment building opens, 1987
The scene then
Roger Straus, Susan Sontag, Graydon Carter, Jay McInerney, Kurt Andersen
The scene now
George Stephanopoulos, James Carville, Ann Curry, Drew Barrymore, Jonathan Galassi, Morgan Entrekin
Well-worn story
The homeless man who walked by the window every night with yellow ducks hanging from his cart; he wound up in the opening montage of Saturday Night Live
Still serving
Silver Oak Cabernet (then, $27 a bottle; now, $120)
This year’s model
Perry Street


Related:

Advertising
Current Issue
Subscribe to New York
Subscribe

Give a Gift

Advertising