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Guide to the Cafe´ Nicholson Archive
 MSS 165 MSS.165

Fales Library and Special Collections
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
3rd Floor
New York, NY 10012
Phone: (212) 998-2596

Fales Library and Special Collections

Collection processed by Processed by Jenny Pachucki, 2006.

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on March 21, 2017
Finding aid written in English.

Historical Note

Cafe´ Nicholson was opened in 1949 by Johnny Nicholson. Born to Albanian immigrants, Nicholson moved from St Louis to New York after he was declared exempt from military service. Nicholson originally had dreams of becoming a fashion designer, but after an unsuccessful stint in the design industry, Nicholson opened a modest cafe on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Nicholson's good friend and extraordinary southern cook, Edna Lewis co-owned the restaurant until the mid 1970s and made Cafe´ Nicholson famous for its fabulous cuisine--especially its chocolate souffle. Cafe´ Nicholson was a pioneering establishment in the restaurant industry because it was invested in food innovation long before food innovation was popular. Over the years Cafe´ Nicholson moved around to several addresses on Manhattan's Upper East Side, although it is most remembered for its location near the Queensborough Bridge. After nearly fifty successful and memorable years, Cafe´ Nicholson closed its doors in 2000.

Known for its lavish greco-roman interior, inspired by Cafe´ Greco in Rome, Cafe´ Nicholson made the ideal background for fashion magazine photo shoots, and various advertisements. Filmmaker Woody Allen used the restaurant for a scene in his 1994 movie, Bullets Over Broadway. Soon after its opening in 1949, the combination of its decor, consistently good food, and lively personal staff, established Cafe´ Nicholson as one of New York's fashionable hotspots. In addition to members of high society, Cafe´ Nicholson attracted artistic and literary figures such as Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, Jean Renoir and many more. Photographer Karl Bissinger documented this scene and many of his original photographs are included in the collection. Cafe´ Nicholson's client list included a range of celebrities, movie stars, politicians, old New York aristocrats and young "up and comings". In the center of this glamorous, theater-like setting was Johnny Nicholson energically running the show with his parrot Lolita perched on his shoulder. Tiffany and Co.'s design director John Loring commented, "High society loves to meet high bohemia, and at Johnny's that made for a certain cafe society." Cafe´ Nicholson holds a unique place in New York City social memory.