Intrepid travel writer, Luke Spencer, detailed his recent stab at traveling NYC like an adventurer of yore for Atlas Obscura. Armed with nothing but the Baedeker guide,
a vintage travel book established in Germany in 1835, and gumption, Spencer set out to spend a weekend exploring modern-day Manhattan like one would in the late 1800s.
While travel in our city — or in America for that matter — didn’t seem so easy back at the turn of the century, it is heartening to see that many things have stayed the same. For example, if you are seeking high-end accommodations, the guide recommends a few staples where the only things that have changed are the prices, such as the Waldorf Astoria ( which was $2.50 per night); the St. Regis (with its fine library of 2,000 volumes ) and The Gotham (known as the Peninsula today.) Baedaker explains, “These ‘fashionable houses of the highest class’ are still as they were back then, ‘sumptuously equipped and decorated with large ball rooms.’”
Current culinary mainstay, Delmonico’s, was recommended as “the” spot for dinner. “Opened in 1837, Delmonico’s was the first American restaurant to allow diners to order from a menu a la carte, to operate a wine list, and where dishes such as Eggs Benedict, Baked Alaska, Lobster a la Newberg and Manhattan Clam Chowder are said to have been invented.”
And while fare and fashion have evolved, the well-to-do have always enjoyed a good day of shopping. During the Gilded age Baedeker recommends two very familiar department stores, Macy’s and Lord & Taylor.
Spencer also commends the guide for pointing out some hidden gems like this tidbit about the grandest store back in the day, Stern Brothers on West 23rd. While the store is now a Home Depot, its ornate exterior lives on. “It still features the elaborately detailed, but largely unnoticed “SB” above the doorway.”