Alan Stillman, the cosmetic salesman-turned-unconventional entrepreneur, began his restaurant career in March 1965 on a shoestring, when he leveraged a $5,000 loan from his mother to open the flagship T.G.I. Friday's on First Avenue in Manhattan. This concept is known as the first "singles" bar. The T.G.I. Friday's concept proved contagious with the subsequent expansion of the chain under Stillman's stewardship to 13 locations. He sold his stake in 1976, but the business model still thrives today with more than 1,000 T.G.I. Friday's in over 50 countries worldwide.
For his next project, Stillman opened Smith & Wollensky on 49th Street and Third Avenue in October 1977 at the site of another venerable New York culinary institution - Manny Wolf's Steakhouse, which occupied the corner for many years. The legendary restaurateur chose the surnames Smith & Wollensky at random from the New York City telephone directory. Called "the quintessential New York steakhouse" by Gourmet Magazine, Smith & Wollensky is one of the highest grossing restaurants in the country, featuring USDA Prime steaks, dry aged and hand butchered on premises.
The most compelling aspect of the history of Smith & Wollensky New York doesn't require a library or archive; its story is best told on the walls - great reviews and wacky photos; restaurant awards beside paintings of zaftig women, letters from outspoken guests and personal brass name plates hung over favorite tables. If the walls don't provide enough information, guests are encouraged to ask a bartender or server about the iconic restaurant's legends and tales, tall and otherwise, if they are willing to tell.