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Guide to the Café Nicholson Archive MSS.165

Fales Library and Special Collections
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
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Fales Library and Special Collections

Collection processed by Processed by Jenny Pachucki, 2006.

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on September 26, 2018
Finding aid written in English. using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

 Edited by Abbie Auster for compliance with DACS and ACM Required Elements for Archival Description.  , September 2018

Historical Note

Café 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 Café Nicholson famous for its fabulous cuisine--especially its chocolate souffle. Café 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 Café 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, Café Nicholson closed its doors in 2000.

Known for its lavish greco-roman interior, inspired by Café Greco in Rome, Café 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 Café Nicholson as one of New York's fashionable hotspots. In addition to members of high society, Café 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. Café 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." Café Nicholson holds a unique place in New York City social memory.