Wednesday, May 14, 2014

"Good Food Without Frills": Nicholaus Restaurant in Schenectady

This photograph of the bustling intersection of State Street and Erie Boulevard, taken around 1935, shows Nicholaus Restaurant at left. Notice the building's signature bay window turret. Photograph from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.   


This blog entry is written by Library Volunteer Ann Eignor.

Long a fixture in Schenectady, Nicholaus German Restaurant was first opened as a saloon by Louis Nicholaus in either 1883 or 1891, depending upon the source. Originally located at the corner of Ferry and Liberty Streets, the restaurant was soon moved into a building at the corner of Erie Boulevard and State Street. The restaurant continued to operate out of this location until it closed in 1975.

In the early days, only men were served at the restaurant and bar. For many years, the elegant mahogany bar remained a men’s enclave. One patron recalled that men ate lunch at the bar in the early 1950’s – a bowl of soup, bratwurst sandwich and a tall glass of double-dark beer was a full meal. He also remembered the bar as a “guy joint” where the barkeeps, Henry and Joe, and the customers freely insulted each other.


Image of the famous men's bar at Nicholaus Restaurant, taken in 1975. Photograph from Larry Hart Collection.

The restaurant, the premier location for German food in Schenectady, soon allowed women who entered through the “ladies entrance” directly into the dining room. A 1939 menu offered an extensive selection, including Hot Pigsnuckles (Hockey) with sauerkraut and boiled potato for 70 cents, Wiener Schnitzel ala Holstein for 90 cents, or Sirloin Beef Steak for $1.25. Mixed drinks went from 25 cents to 40 cents and a pitcher of Muencher Dark (German) beer cost $1.25.


Excerpt from 1939 Nicholaus Restaurant menu, showing German specials served at the restaurant. Image from the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library. 


Loppa, a macaw parrot, was brought to Schenectady from Guatemala in 1907. Thought to be about 50 years old at the time of his arrival, Loppa died in 1936. The parrot freely roamed the saloon, the restaurant, and the outside environs. After his demise, Loppa was preserved by a taxidermist and was perched at Nicholaus’ until the restaurant closed. Loppa is now part of the museum collection at the Schenectady County Historical Society.


Dr. John Nicholaus poses with the stuffed parrot Loppa, long a mascot of Nicholaus Restaurant, in 1965. The parrot is now in the museum collection of the Schenectady County Historical Society. Image from Larry Hart Collection. 


Louis Nicholaus passed away in 1923 and was succeeded by his son Alfred. Louis’ younger son, Dr. John Nicholaus, took over the business in the 1950s until his death in 1968. The business operated on a lease arrangement for many years as patronage declined. Shortly after its closing in 1975, an explosion in a basement store room shook the building. It was feared that the building might need to be demolished, but that was not the case.


1960 composite photograph of the employees of Nicholaus Restaurant, with Alfred, John, and John's wife Margaret superimposed in the foreground. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 


Maurice’s Readi-Food, known for its roast beef sandwiches and other deli sandwiches, moved in to the old Nicholaus building from 1976 until 2004. Since that time, the Nicholaus building has housed the Bangkok Bistro Restaurant and now Thai Thai Bistro. During its various incarnations, the Nicholaus Block with its distinctive bay window turret has remained a landmark in downtown Schenectady.

1 comment:

  1. My father, Harold MacKinnon, was a "GE-lifer" who came to Schenectady in 1922 at the age of 19 and retired in 1967--all but 14 years spent in town. The family jest was that he ate lunch at Nicholaus every day over those 30 years.

    ReplyDelete