Find of the day: Steuben’s

I got lucky at a vintage postcard show this weekend and found this mid-1950s menu from a once popular restaurant in Boston’s theater district. Yes, believe it or not, Boston did have a downtown entertainment zone with night-clubby restaurants such as Steuben’s at 114 Boylston Street near Tremont, not far from another such place, the Hi-Da-Way. The neighborhood – which later came to be known locally as “the Combat Zone” — was eventually taken over by strip clubs, adult bookstores, and X-rated movie theaters.

The menu exudes a spirit of hilarity and puts Steuben’s in a category which I think of as the “nut club.” These were mid-century places where church-going suburbanites went occasionally to take a break from rationality and good behavior. It seems as though they proliferated after World War II — what you might think of as the PTSD therapy of that era.

Café Midnight was the part of Steuben’s that catered to the late-night crowd which often included celebrities performing in town who came there after their shows to unwind. At its peak, the restaurant expanded into five rooms, featured floor shows, Latin music in The Cave, and a radio broadcast by host Don Dennis who enthused about the restaurant’s cheese cake.

Steuben’s was established in 1932 by two Austrian-born Jewish brothers, Joseph and Max Schneider. At that time it featured a 63-foot long soda bar but clearly its opening was in anticipation of the much-awaited end of Prohibition. About a year later the restaurant was one of the first 114 “common victuallers” in Boston to get a full liquor license.

The restaurant was not kosher but it served dishes such as smoked salmon and cream cheese on a bagel, kippered herring with scrambled eggs, and chopped chicken livers. But the late-night menu also included standard restaurant fare such as steak sandwiches and grilled cheese with Canadian bacon. During the daytime Steuben’s Dutch dining room advertised lobster and turkey specials for shoppers.

Steuben’s closed sometime in the early 1970s. Co-founder Max Schneider, who also operated Ye Olde Brass Rail restaurant in Boston, died in 1975, Joseph in 1986. The brothers also owned the Blue and Gold Corp. which managed concessions at the Lincoln Downs racetrack in Rhode Island and Suffolk Downs in East Boston.

© Jan Whitaker, 2011

13 Comments

Filed under menus

13 responses to “Find of the day: Steuben’s

  1. Pat cohen

    I enjoyed reading your post about Steuben Dutch Dining Room. I have come across a 3 x 3 matchbook souvenir from the Steuben. If you would like I could easily send it to you as a gift. It is a charming treasure and needs a good home.

  2. Chris

    I just recently found out that my Great-Grandmother, Elizabeth Flink, was a waitress here in the last 50’s to late 60’s. I was so glad to read the history of this place as it gives me a little history about what it may have been liked to work there. Thanks for posting this!

  3. Vicki-Lee Ayers

    I have a Steuben’s “The Cave” menu from the late 1940’s that is in my mother’s souvenier box, along with several others from NYC and Baltimore during this time frame. Amazing and fascinating!

  4. Emily Biederman

    Hi Jan! Any chance you might have a large image file of the Cafe Midnight postcard? Like I mentioned before, I work for the Steuben’s in Denver, and we might use it for our NYE graphic this year. If you do, an email would be awesome! thanks!

  5. richard brown

    My dad, Phi Brown, was the pianist for the Stueben’s down stairs night club in the forties. I have a photo of the band at the club, led by Jaques Fischer. I remember my dad taking me (I must have been around 10 and was at the club with my mother and brother, a birthday I think) to the Cave, which was connected to Stueben’s via a barrow passageway, were he also played. I vividly remember that the musicians there wore bear costumes.

    • I love the detail about the bear costumes!

    • Emily Biederman

      Hi! Great memories! I’m with the Steuben’s in Denver, CO, opened by the original owner’s nephew. We love hearing about the original. If you have any cool photos/Steuben’s stuff you want to part with let me know. We have a lot of it displayed around the restaurant, our guests love to hear the history!

  6. Emily Biederman

    Hi Jan! Great post! I work for the company who opened Steuben’s in Denver 5 years ago, by the original owners’ nephew. If you are ever looking to sell/donate your vntage Steuben’s stuff let me know, we love having the original stuff hanging in the restaurant!

  7. Jan, I’m pretty sure Steuben’s is the place my Maine parents favored when they drifted “up” to Boston for semi-annual visits. I have a hilarious picture of the two of them, with a blase friend of my father’s and my very excited looking little sister and me, the Wellesley intellectual, with an unmistakeable look on my face that says: “Oh, dear god, please get me out of this and as far away as possble from these utterly provincial dweebs.” Who knew that years, nay decades, later I would look back on the whole thing with lambent nostalgia?

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