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Guide to the Café Nicholson Archive MSS.165

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Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
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Phone: (212) 998-2596
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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

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Nicholson, John, 1916-2016
Source - dnr: Nicholson, John, 1916-2016
Title: Café Nicholson Archive
Dates [inclusive]: 1948-2005
Abstract: Café Nicholson was opened in 1949 by Johnny Nicholson and closed over 50 years later in 2000. The restaurant was famous for its exploration of food innovation prior to this trend becoming popular. The luxurious interior decor of the restaurant in combination with its unique menu made Café Nicholson a hotspot for celebrities and other individuals in the upper echechelons of New York City society. This collection of photographs, newspaper and magazine clippings, publications, and Café Nicholson memorabilia all give a distinct sense of the character and culture of the restaurant and its significance to New York City social, cultural and culinary history. Materials in this collection date from 1948 to 2005.
Quantity: 2 Linear Feet in 1 record carton, 1 manuscript box, and 1 oversize flat box
Location: Materials are stored offsite and advance notice is required for use. Please request materials at least two business days prior to your research visit to coordinate access.
Language: Materials are in English.
Call Phrase: MSS.165

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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.

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Scope and Contents

The collection, consisting of photographs, newspaper and magazine clippings, publications, and Café Nicholson memorabilia, gives a distinct sense of the character and culture of the restaurant and its significance to post WWII New York City social, cultural, and culinary history. Materials in this collection date from 1948 to 2005.

The collection is organized into four series with an additional series for oversize material.

Series I is composed of materials from 5 scrapbooks compiled by Johnny Nicholson. Arranged in rough chronological order, the scrapbooks document the restaurant from the early 1950s through to the restaurant closing in 2000.  Series I contains clippings from newspapers and magazines as well as visual materials including small paintings and Karl Bissinger photographs of restaurant patrons including Paul Bowles, Hoagy Carmichael, Jenny Tourel, Jean Renoir and others.

Series II consists of correspondence to Johnny Nicholson from various restaurant patrons.

Series III contains printed materials and is organized into two subseries, one for articles, mentions, and reviews of the restaurant; the second for books with mentions of the restaurant.

Series IV consists of Café Nicholson objects and memorabilia.

Arrangement

The records are arranged into four series with an additional series for oversize materials listed at the end. Series I contains five subseries which are arranged chronologically. Series II, III, and IV are arranged alphabetically. The series and subseries arrangement of the records is as follows:

Series I: Scrapbooks

Subseries A: Scrapbook I

Subseries B: Scrapbook II

Subseries C: Scrapbook III

Subseries D: Scrapbook IV

Subseries E: Scrapbook V

Series II: Correspondence

Series III: Printed Materials

Subseries A: Articles, Reviews, Mentions

Subseries B: Books

Series IV: Objects and Memorabilia

Oversize Series I: Scrapbooks

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Access Points

Subject Names

  • Nicholson, John, 1916-2016
  • Bissinger, Karl
  • Lewis, Edna

Subject Organizations

  • Cafe Nicholson

Subject Topics

  • Restaurants -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Dinners and dining -- New York.
  • Gastronomy.
  • Women cooks -- United States.

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Administrative Information

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

This collection is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use materials in the collection in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).

Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:

Identification of item, date; Café Nicholson Archive; MSS 165; box number; folder number; Fales Library and Special Collections, New York University.

Related Material at Fales Library and Special Collections

The Cecily Brownstone Papers

The Les Dames d'Escoffier New York Archive

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by John Nicholson, 1984. The accession number associated with this gift is 2005.165

Processing Information

Processing decisions made prior to September 2018 have not been recorded.

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Container List

Series I: Scrapbooks

Scope and Contents note

Series I is composed of materials from 5 scrapbooks compiled by Johnny Nicholson. Arranged in rough chronological order, the scrapbooks document the restaurant from the early 1950s through to the restaurant closing in 2000. Series I contains clippings from newspapers and magazines as well as visual materials including small paintings and Karl Bissinger photographs of restaurant patrons including Paul Bowles, Hoagy Carmichael, Jenny Tourel, Jean Renoir and others.

Subseries A: Scrapbook I

Scope and Contents note

This subseries consists of materials from Scrapbook I, dating from June 1948-July 1952 when Café Nicholson was located at 212 East 58th Street, New York, NY.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 1 Typescript, "Mr. Nicholson's Magical, Moveable Feast." By Michael Batterbury
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 2 Two photocopies of black and photographs
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 3 One 8"x10" black and white photograph by Gerry Mandell
1949
Box: 1 Folder : 4 Two 8"x10" black and white photographs by Gerry Mandell
1949
Box: 1 Folder : 5 One 9"x11.5" watercolor by Richard De Menocal
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 6 One 10"x7", one 8"x11" and three 4"x5" black and white photographs of Jenny Tourel by Karl Bissinger
ca. 1950
Box: 1 Folder : 8 Printed materials of fashion photographs from unknown magazines
1950
Box: 1 Folder : 9 Photocopy of 8"x10" black and white photograph taken by Karl Bissenger of Tanaquil Le Clercq, Donald Windham, Buffie Johnson, Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal and Edna Lewis.
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 10 One 8"x11" black and white photograph of Charles Russell Bennett by Karl Bissinger
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 11 One 9"x 11.5" black and white photograph of Hoagy Carmichael by Karl Bissinger
ca. 1950
Box: 1 Folder : 12 One 7.5"x 8.5" black and white photograph of Gower and Marge Champion by Karl Bissinger
ca. 1950
Box: 1 Folder : 13 Magazine clipping of Karl Bissinger photograph of Jean Renoir
ca. 1950
Box: 1 Folder : 14 Mixed media painting by Tom Prentiss
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 15 NY Herald Tribune clipping, "New Discovery in Restaurants", by Clementine Paddleford
1951

Subseries B:Scrapbook II

Scope and Contents note

This subseries consists of materials from Scrapbook II, dating from 1952-1954, when Café Nicholson was at 323 East 58th Street and Café New Johnny was at 146 East 57th Street

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 16 Clipping from Town and Country, "New Years' Newest"
1953
Box: 1 Folder : 17 Clippings from unknown publications including review by Herb Caan
1952
Box: 1 Folder : 18 Clipping from unknown publication, "New Johnny's Café a Decorator's Dream," by Clementine Paddleford
1955

Subseries C: Scrapbook III

Scope and Contents note

This subseries consists of materials from Scrapbook III, dating from 1954-1967, when Café Nicholson was at 147 East 57th Street

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 20 Cover of The Continental Magazine
1962
Box: 1 Folder : 21 Full page layout in unknown publication
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 22 One 9"x11.5" black and white photograph of restaurant facade
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 24 New York Times clipping, "Restaurant on Review," by Craig Claiborne
ca. 1964
Box: 1 Folder : 26 Clippings from unknown publications
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 27 Town and Country and DeCor Furs advertisement
1959
Box: 1 Folder : 28 Clippings from unknown publications including Saks Fifth Ave advertisement
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 29 One 8"x10" black and white photograph of Paul Bowles by Karl Bissinger for Millicent Dillon's "A Little Original Sin"
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 30 Advertisement from unknown publication
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 33 Two 8"x10" black and white photographs, photographer unknown.
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 34 Old Charter Bourbon advertisement
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 38 Two "with compliments" cards, and one copy of photograph from unknown publication
undated

Subseries D: Scrapbook IV

Scope and Contents note

This subseries consists of materials from Scrapbook IV, dating from 1967-1999, when Café Nicholson was at 320 East 57th Street

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 40 Fourteen page feature article in Mademoiselle magazine, photographs by David McCabe
1970
Box: 1 Folder : 42 One 4"x6" color photograph, printed invitation, and 4"x6' mounted print of a pastel drawing by Jared Barn
ca. 1988
Box: 1 Folder : 43 Three 4"x6" color photographs, and two 3.5"x4.5" color photographs
1981, undated
Box: 1 Folder : 46 Photocopy from New York Cookbook, by Molly O'Neil
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 47 Misc. printed materials and copy of color photograph from closing night at Café Nicholson
1967, 1995 and undated

Subseries E: Scrapbook V

Scope and Contents note

This subseries consists of materials from Scrapbook V, dating from 1967-1999, when Café Nicholson was at 323 East 58th Street

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 48 Four 8"x10" color photographs of the restaurant interior
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 49 Two 8"x10" color stills taken from the Woody Allen film "Bullets Over Broadway"
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 52 Two 8"x10" black and white photographs of the restaurant interior
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 53 Clipping from On the Town in New York City by Michael and Araine Batterberry
1973
Box: 1 Folder : 54 Misc. printed materials from Forbes Magazine
1994
Box: 1 Folder : 58 Printed materials, unknown publication, photograph of Edna Lewis
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 60 Printed materials, unknown publication, Benson and Hedges 100s advertisement
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 63 Seven 8"x10" black and white photographs by Bill Cummingham
1985
Box: 1 Folder : 66 Misc. enclosures and color copy of "staff" photograph
1952-71
Box: 1 Folder : 67 Misc. enclosures, Forbes correspondence
1994, 1997
Box: 1 Folder : 68 Misc. enclosures from the end of scrapbook

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Series II: Correspondence

Scope and Contents note

Correspondence to Johnny Nicholson. The bulk of the materials date from the 1980s-1990s; some items are undated.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 69 Correspondence A-D
various
Box: 1 Folder : 70 Correspondence E-H
various
Box: 1 Folder : 71 Correspondence I-L
various
Box: 1 Folder : 72 Correspondence M-P
various
Box: 1 Folder : 73 Correspondence Q-T
various
Box: 1 Folder : 74 Correspondence U-Z
various
Box: 1 Folder : 75 Correspondence, misc envelopes
various

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Series III: Printed Materials

Scope and Contents note

Articles, reviews, mentions and books

Subseries A: Articles, Reviews, Mentions

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 2 Folder : 76 Article from Architectural Digest, "Brendan Gill: Café Nicholson"
1992
Box: 2 Folder : 77 Article from Diversion, "Café Nicholson" by Geri Trotta
1994
Box: 2 Folder : 78 Article from Esquire magazine, "A Café That's Never Open" by Suzanne O'Malley
1978
Box: 2 Folder : 79 Mention in Gourmet magazine, "Specialities de la Maison" by Donald Aspinwall Allan
1968
Box: 2 Folder : 80 Advertisement from The New Yorker
1961
Box: 2 Folder : 81 Mention from The New Yorker, "Talk of the Town"
1975
Box: 2 Folder : 82 Mention from New York Magazine, "The Place to Be" by John Homans and Marc Jacobson
2003
Box: 2 Folder : 83 New Yorkskiye Sezony
1997
Box: 2 Folder : 84 Advertisement in The Playbill
1960
Box: 2 Folder : 85 Advertisement in The Playbill
1977
Box: 2 Folder : 86 Advertisement in The Playbill
1978
Box: 2 Folder : 87 Advertisement in The Playbill
1988
Box: 2 Folder : 88 Prestige Art
1995
Box: 2 Folder : 89 Mention in New York Magazine, "Blow-Out: The Decline and Fall of the Fashion Photographer" by Owen Edwards
1973
Box: 2 Folder : 90 article in Vanity Fair, "High Bohemia" by Gore Vidal
2003
Box: 2 Folder : 90A Article in Vanity Fair, "A Nightspot to Remember" by Mary Cantwell
1999

Subseries B: Books

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 2 Folder : 91 ABC-The Museum of Modern Art New York, by Florence Casen Mayers
1986
Box: 2 Folder : 92 The New York Times Guide to Dining Out in New York
1972
Box: 2 Folder : 93 The New York Times Guide to Dining Out in New York, by Brian Miller
1976
Box: 2 Folder : 94 The New York Times Guide to Restaurants in New York City
1991-1992
Box: 2 Folder : 95 On the Town in New York From 1776 to the Present, by Michael and Ariane Batterberry
Box: 2 Folder : 96 Richtig Reisen New York
1978
Box: 2 Folder : 97 The Tiffany Gourmet Cookbook by John Loring
1992
Box: 2 Folder : 98 Zagat Survey 1999 New York City Restaurants
1999

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Series IV: Objects and Memorabilia

Scope and Contents note

Restaurant related objects and memorabilia.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 2 Folder : 99 Staff ledgerbook
1962-65
Box: 2 Folder : 100 Matchbooks
undated

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Oversize Series I: Scrapbooks

Scope and Contents note

Oversize materials from scrapbooks in Series I.

Oversize - Subseries A: Scrapbook I

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 3 Folder : 7 Color copy of a photograph of unknown painting
undated

Oversize - Subseries C: Scrapbook III

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 3 Folder : 19 Color copy of a photograph
undated
Box: 3 Folder : 23 Fashion of the Times, Crompton Velvet advertisement
1966
Box: 3 Folder : 25 Clipping from unknown magazine
undated
Box: 3 Folder : 31 New York Times Magazine, "Swinging Victorians"
1966
Box: 3 Folder : 32 Clipping from unknown publication, "Tabled Tables"
undated
Box: 3 Folder : 35 New York Journal-American, "Shirt Waist Revival"
1959
Box: 3 Folder : 36 Today's Living, "Neon Lights"
1959
Box: 3 Folder : 37 clipping from unknown publication, "Life of the Party"
1960

Oversize - Subseries D: Scrapbook IV

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 3 Folder : 39 The Washington Post, "Auditioning New Roles"
1970
Box: 3 Folder : 41 The New York Times, "Ambassador" advertisement
1973
Box: 3 Folder : 44 New York Post, "New York's Romantic Restaurants"
1973
Box: 3 Folder : 45 W Magazine, "In and Out"
1987

Oversize - Subseries E: Scrapbook V

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 3 Folder : 50 New York Times Magazine, "Remembrance of A Souffle Past"
1979
Box: 3 Folder : 51 Various clippings, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times
1990-91
Box: 3 Folder : 55 Clipping from unknown publication, "Center Pieces to Taste With the Eye"
undated
Box: 3 Folder : 56 page from the New York Times Magazine
undated
Box: 3 Folder : 57 New York Times Magazine, Geoffrey Bean advertisement
1977
Box: 3 Folder : 59 Hanes advertisement
undated
Box: 3 Folder : 61 Vogue, Trevira advertisement
undated
Box: 3 Folder : 64 W Magazine, "Louise Eats Out"
1987
Box: 3 Folder : 65 New York Times, "The Evening Hours"
1985

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