The Boulevard Cafeteria: ticket to lunch

Paradiso Boulevard Cafeteria

The old Boulevard Cafeteria, where Albany met for lunch.

So far, Lunch Week has been all about where to go to lunch now. But it got us thinking about where people used to eat "back in the day."

Restaurants are about more than just food -- they're about atmosphere and character and clientele. They're gathering places full of stories.

From the late 1920's through the 1950's, one of the more interesting places people gathered in Albany was a 24 hour, semi-self-serve joint at the corner of Central Ave and Robin St. called The Boulevard Cafeteria.

Today it houses Ristorante Paradiso, owned by Matt Daskalakis. Matt used to eat at the Boulevard when he came to Albany to play for the Albany Senators in the 1950s. He gave us the tour of the old place, which is virtually untouched except for a movie makeover in the 1980s.

Be sure to scroll down to check out the menus (with prices) from the 1930s and 1940s.

Matt DaskalakasWhat was the Boulevard Cafeteria like?

The Boulevard Cafeteria was one of the most popular eating and gathering places in Albany. It was a 24 hour operation. It was build in 1928, and in 1931 they expanded and the owner, George Jeoney, added a back room for the faculty from the Teachers College.

They had a system at The Boulevard that was unheard of, at least in Albany, at the time. You'd come in and pull a ticket out of this machine, then you went to the counter and ordered.

Take a check machine 2.JPG

The counter man had a hole punch and he would punch the amount you owed into the ticket.

Boulevard Cafeteria 1930's tickets.jpg

Most of the menu items were on the wall and you would go and read and tell them what you wanted and he'd punch your ticket. So there was no waitstaff and no tipping.

So it kind of ran on the honor system? Did people -- you know -- try to get around it?

(Laughs) The only thing I've heard was that there were some people -- especially the late night people -- they would pull two tickets and they would order something pricey, sit down and eat it, and then go get something inexpensive -- like a cup of coffee -- with the other ticket. Then when they'd leave, they'd only give the cashier the second ticket.

Those were the schemers. I guess every era has its schemers.

Boulevard Cafeteria Model.JPG

What was The Boulevard known for?

I don't know about a particular kind of food -- but what it was noted for was so many diversified groups of people ... whether it was students and teachers from the State Teachers College, telephone workers, revelers, people going to work in the morning. There was a shoeshine stand. People from every walk of life coming in at different times. The sports people would come in and draw their plays on paper napkins and go over them. So many happy stories came out of here.

Blvd Cafeteria photo.JPG

Sounds like kind of a cool place. Why did it close?

It closed around 1965. At that time people were moving out to the suburbs. Colonie Center was becoming a reality. The South Mall was about to become a reality, even though it took a few years. Also automobiles and a lack of parking -- the area sort of lost its glow.

What saved this building in terms of a restaurant was [the film] Ironweed.

Ironweed Cartoon

This building was picked for one bar scene where Meryl Streep sings "Bird in a Gilded Cage." I had just purchased the place for a retirement investment when the movie people saw it. They were looking for a place that looked like the 1938 era -- untouched. They remodeled the floor and built a bar and when I closed on the building I ended up with a restaurant.

In the movie scene they shot here, there were so many big stars -- Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Nathan Lane, Fred Gwynn. When people watch the film everyone is watching them -- except me. (laughs) I'm looking at the little bits of the lights and woodwork and stained glass.
____

Ristorante Paradiso is only opening for private parties this summer, but small groups are welcome. In September they're re-opening with pizzas and a light menu for -- yep -- lunch.

Here's a menu from 1934:

Boulevard Cafeteria 1934 Menu.jpg

And another undated menu:

Boulevard Cafeteria  later menu 1.jpg

Boulevard Cafeteria later menu 2.jpg

Boulevard Cafeteria later menu 3.jpg

And here's Matt, showing the ticket machine in action:

Find It

The Boulevard Cafeteria (now Ristorante Paradiso)
198 Central Avenue
Albany, NY 12206

Comments

That is really, very cool. I had no idea!

I love this place! Great ziti!

Why was it called "The Boulevard" if it's on Central AVENUE.

And why do you drive on a parkway and......

I guess it doesn't matter.

Amazing menu, where has this type of menu gone?

It's a great place to hold a holiday party. ASAP had ours there last year.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bkraus/sets/72157622944147190/

My Favorite hangout!!! Love you Matt and Odette!!

I enjoyed eating at the Boulevard every Friday as they featured the broiled Swordfish, with homemade mashed potatoes, applesauce, a wedge of lemon, and a side dish of a veggie of choice. - all for $1.25. Of course being a teen, I also had to have the chocolate milk to go along with that!!
My dad was one of the merchants on the Avenue that frequented the Boulevard, as it was a quiet, comfortable, and wonderful place to come and enjoy good food!
Yes, there was the Central Ave Diner up the street that looked like a long silver trolley, and then there was the Mayflower restaurant that served mostly light fare.
But non could surpass the quality nor the price offered by the Boulevard Cafeteria so it was the "favorite spot for many".
The original counter was behind glass enclosed case that showed the many desserts of fruit, pies and cakes offered as something to think about after the meal. You would take a tray and slide it along the silver tubular tray rack as you stood in line to be waited on next. This was the "Cafeteria" style of ordering the delicious food. It also cut down on having to have extra waiters to wait on the tables, although they did have bus boys to take care of the tables as each person left.
The Central Ave. Civic Merchants Association often held their meetings in the conference room which was a room set aside and apart from the main cafeteria.
My dad, Mr. Frank J. Lambert of F.J. Lambert Jewelers went to eat there quite often, and enjoyed the "home style"
cooked meals.
The two wall murals were often considered quite scandalous by some in those days, but after realizing that they were beautiful works of art, their presence as decoration soon became just a part of the 'atmosphere' because the food was just that good! and... the home made pies, and the puddings were very appealing also.
Also, let it be noted that a young boy often came into my dad's store to go to the Boulevard to buy some coffee for my dad, and saved my dad the trip there because he was so busy. This young man, would often come into the store and announce to my dad, that, "someday I'm going to be the Mayor of Albany", and of course my mom thought that this was funny, and that he was a dreamer, but my dad always had the comeback, that... maybe his dream will become a reality some day. Dad was right, he saw a young man with a vision and a drive that went into the future of Albany, and today, I'm glad to see that Mayor Jerry Jennings has made it!
Central Ave. was great back in the day!
I would love to see the Avenue come into its' own again with a flourish!!
Fran Lambert (f.J.Lambert's daughter)

Wonderful memories, Fran...thanks so much for sharing them!

Great description of a wonderful Albany tradition.
When I was at "Albany State" in the early sixties, we "discovered" the Boule at first for tea or coffee and a brownie in the evening, but later for lunch every day. One of my friends spotted something on the wall menu described as "single fried egg," 45 cents. She ordered it, and found that it was actually a fried egg on two pieces of toast with an order of french fries. A bunch of us had that for lunch just about every school day for a year. We became regulars, and because of my beautiful roommate, attracted the owner, Mr. Jeony's son, who took both of us out to a night club. We thought there was safety in numbers. His main attraction was that he drove a T-Bird. It was a great place , but don't forget the Wimpy at the Mayflower or the Londoner roast beef sandwich at Joe's Deli...

I know the owners son, Alex Jeoney, and play golf with him several time a week. He's a good person and a great friend.

As a boy I would accompany my father Fred Spencer sr. a magician from Troy NY and his Albany magician's friends to the Boulevard Cafeteria after a magic meeting in the Albany area. I have always remembered the place and loved the character and of course the food. Yes and also the ticket system. I left the area in the 60's for a career in show business as a puppeteer/ actor. Which worked out well for me. I visit the area from time to time and always wondered if the café still excited. Now I know the whole story. Thanks

I went there as a little girl with my grandmother mostly. She always took me back to school shopping and out to lunch.
I thought it was so interesting to have naked people on the ceiling.
Funny how small Albany is, Matt and Odette are now my neighbors and my husband and I would go to Restorante Paradiso for dinner.
We then had the privilege of working for Matt and Odette.
in the restaurant for a period of time.
Wonderful people, wonderful memories.

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