The Crystal Restaurant
Watertown's Oldest Restaurant
The Crystal Restaurant is the oldest restaurant in Watertown. It has been continually operated since 1925. The Crystal Restaurant and the building it which it resides, are currently owned and operated by Watertown residents Peter and Libby Dephtereos.
The building that houses the Crystal was built in the 1850s after the Great Fire of 1849. In the early 1900s, the building was known as the Standard Block. In 1907, it was renamed the Devine Block, after Michael Devine, the business-owner who renovated the building and put in a saloon. A restaurant has been at the location since 1919. At that time, the Belmont Lunch and Restaurant replaced Devine’s saloon. The 17,000 square-foot restaurant changed hands a few more times before it became the Crystal Restaurant in 1925.
When it opened in 1925, the Crystal Restaurant was owned and operated by Greek immigrants Dennis and Jerry Valanos. The Dephtereos family became associated with the eatery in 1928, when the Valanos brothers hired the current owner’s grandfather, Otto Dephtereos, as a chef. When the Valanos brothers returned to Greece in 1943, Otto’s brother, Nicholas Dephtereos bought the business. The business passed to Otto’s son Joseph Dephtereos and Nicholas’ son Leo Dephtereos in 1981. Joseph passed the business to his son, and current owner, Peter Dephtereos. Joseph, a veteran who served as radio gunner on a World War II B-25 Mitchell bomber, still works at the Crystal daily, continuing his father Otto’s work as a chef. As of today, The Crystal has been owned and operated by the Dephtereos for almost eighty years. The family has made the restaurant locally famous for its low prices, specialty cocktails, personal service, and vintage furnishings.
The furnishings of the restaurant are original to the 1907 remodel. Indeed the restaurant is famous, in part, for its antique interior. The restaurant boasts one of the last stand-up bars in the country. It has retained its pressed tin-ceilings and the black-and-white masonry floor which are made up of thousands of half-inch tiles. The benches, tables, and twelve mahogany booths are also original. Astonishingly, even the mirrors, booth lights, and a three-pronged brass coat-hooks have survived the century intact. Although it has been re-touched over the years, the same prohibition advertisement for “All Legal Beverages” is still visible in the Crystal’s front window. The cash register is a later addition from the 1930s, but the same one that rang up Franklin Roosevelt’s tab during his Watertown visit.
In addition to its furnishings and family atmosphere, the restaurant has become very well known for its signature cocktail: the Tom & Jerry. The Crystal’s house recipe is a guarded secret, but the frothy, egg-nog-like drink has its roots in Wisconsin and Minnesota. The restaurant serves its famous beverage during the holiday season. The drink batter is ladled from a black bowl on the bar that the restaurant acquired from the Hotel Woodruff in the 1940s.
In 2018, State Senator Patty Ritchie honored the Crystal with the Empire Award recognizing excellence in business. Although the crystal is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places it is a Very Special Site designated by the Traditonal Arts in Upstate New York, a local organization dedicated to showcasing folklife in Northern and Upstate New York.