Every week for the rest of the year, Our Town will celebrate our 45th anniversary by profiling a neighborhood business that has been around longer than we have. Know of a local business that should be on our list? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Everything you need to know about the importance of tradition for the Philips family can be learned from the names of the people who run their restaurant.
The Mansion, an Upper East Side anchor at York Ave. and 86th Street, was founded by John Philips, a Depression-era immigrant from Cyprus. In the 1970s, John was joined by his son, Philip (yes, Philip Philips), who was born and raised on 86th.
Nearly a decade ago, Philip was joined by his son, John, who was raised a block away and has a young son named ... Philip.
So, for 70 years, this restaurant has stayed the course in the neighborhood, and has been run the entire time by someone named either Philip or John, all of them living a few minutes from the front door.
Why only men? “The women in this family have never known how to cook, not at all,” said 36-year-old John Philips, dressed in a white chef’s coat and sitting in a booth of the restaurant on a recent weekday. John has been shuttling back and forth to the hospital, where his father, known in some circles as the Mayor of 86th Street, is recovering from an illness (a source of concerned discussion on the Upper East Side).
At a time of unnerving change in New York, The Mansion has remained faithfully reliable. It is among the few establishments in the neighborhood that Mayor Bill de Blasio has ventured out to visit (Gracie Mansion is a few blocks away, drawing every mayor since LaGuardia), and its stable of regulars represent central casting’s version of a local diner’s cast of characters: The man in Table 2 who comes every night, alone, and orders exactly the same thing; the staff at the boxing gym across the street who show up for a daily dose of paleo protein, and John’s 2-year-old son, Philip, who eats three meals a day at The Mansion. Ditto for the cooking and wait staff, many of whom are related. “The chef has been here since I was eight years old,” John said.
Though The Mansion has the look of a classic diner, the family -- really, Philip -- don’t like the label, and indeed this is a serious restaurant. The matzoh ball soup has been hailed as among the best in the city (70 to 80 gallons a day of it) and John has bonafide foodie chops, having managed at the Plaza and Tribeca Grand before returning to the family business. There are days when his team will deliver 250 meals to take-out customers. “We take a lot of pride in what we do,” he said.
The Philips, of course, see their neighborhood transform, and they’re adapting to keep pace. A selection of craft beers and gluten-free sweets have been added, and John says “you see a lot more salads on our menu than you would have seen a few years ago.”
There’s also some talk of expansion, though a couple of constants are almost guaranteed: the restaurant will almost surely remain run by a John or Philip Philips, and they will all but certainly live within shouting distance of a single corner of the Upper East Side.