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Did Delmonico’s Actually Steal Pillars From the Ruins of Pompeii?

With almost two centuries of service under its belt, iconic New York steakhouse Delmonico’s boasts its fair share of connections to the past. Swiss immigrants and brothers Giovanni and Pietro Delmonico first opened the establishment in 1827 as a pastry shop focused on cakes and fine wines, but the concept evolved into a high-end restaurant in 1831. By 1837, the institution had found its current home at the intersection of Beaver and William Streets in the Financial District. The steakhouse reopened in 2023 after a three-year, pandemic-induced hiatus, during which it underwent a major redesign as well as a contentious legal dispute over the Delmonico’s trademark. The much-anticipated debut of the new Delmonico’s unearthed much of the lore surrounding the restaurant, including rumors of some ancient Roman artifacts living on the premises.

Delmonico’s claims to be America’s first fine-dining establishment and was the first to introduce several iconic dishes including Eggs Benedict and the Baked Alaska, both of which remain on the menu today. And even though Delmonico’s doesn’t claim to have invented the hamburger, many believe it was the first restaurant to formally serve it as a dish. The establishment was also apparently one of the first-ever restaurants to use electric lights, as well as the first to offer printed menus, tablecloths, private tables, and the option for women to dine solo.

Here’s where we get into shakier territory: The restaurant also suggests that the appeal of its classic facade can actually be attributed to its “original Pompeian pillars.” Yes, that’s right: Delmonico’s asserts that artifacts excavated from the ruins of Pompeii stand outside its front doors. As the ancient Roman city was destroyed by the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., that would mean these unprotected pillars are some of the oldest artifacts in the country.

According to an issue of the Sun dated July 7, 1891, Lorenzo Delmonico allegedly imported the pillars from Italy before the original location was built, though how he acquired them remains a mystery. When an early iteration of Delmonico’s was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1835, the pillars survived as some of the only remaining aspects of the building. So when Delmonico’s opened a revamped location in 1981, the pillars were included as a tribute to the resilience of the restaurant.

The same story noted: “Out of the wreck of the old building the two white marble pillars … which Lorenzo imported from Pompeii have been retained and form part of the entrance at needle point where they have for over half a century.” Since then, most media coverage and historical accounts of this restaurant include a blurb about how these supposed Pompeian pillars still stand tall at Delmonico’s’ entrance.

While it’s impossible to determine whether or not these pillars are really from Pompeii — though logic points to no — they have since become a different type of historic landmark: one that honors this dining dynasty’s presence in New York.

*Image retrieved from @raffaele_iaculli_walker via @delmonicosnewyork on Instagram

The article Did Delmonico’s Actually Steal Pillars From the Ruins of Pompeii? appeared first on VinePair.

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