The artist dines out

Before World War I artists in NYC were attracted to cheap, unpretentious little ethnic restaurants in the basements of brownstones that dotted unfashionable side streets. Called table d’hôtes, they harked back to the early days of European restaurants when paying guests sat down with the host family at their dining table. With the meal, which typically consisted of spaghetti, salad, and a small portion of meat or fish, came a complimentary carafe of red wine, not always of the best vintage.

Evidently when Charles Green Shaw, the author of the haiku-like poem below, attended such a dinner in Greenwich Village he wasn’t exactly swept off his feet. Rather he displays a comical tongue-in-cheek attitude about the experience. I would guess he wrote the poem about 1915.

Shaw [1892-1974] was an abstract modern artist whose work is in the collections of major museums such as MOMA and the Art Institute of Chicago. He also was a children’s book illustrator, a poet, and an author of essays and novels. He collected theatrical ephemera and was an authority on Lewis Carroll. His papers, which include some of his drawings, are held in the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

The Bohemian Dinner

The ride downtown.
The Washington Square district.
The “bohemian” restaurant.
The descending steps.
The narrow hall-way.
The semi darkness.
The checking the hat.
The head waiter.
The effusive greeting.
The corner table.
The candle light.
The brick walls.
The “artistic atmosphere”.
The man who plays the piano.
The wailing sounds.
The boy fiddler.
The doleful discords.
The other diners.
The curious types.
The long hair.
The low collar.
The flowing tie.
The loose clothes.
The appearance of food.
The groan.
The messy waiter.
The thumb in the soup.
The grated cheese.
The twisted bread.
The veal paté.
The minced macaroni.
The cayenne pepper.
The coughing fit.
The chemical wine.
The garlic salad.
The rum omlette.
The black coffee.
The bénédictine.
The Russian cigarette.
The “boatman’s song”.
The mock applause.
The “temper[a]mental” selection.”
The drowsy feeling.
The snooze.
The sudden awakening.
The appearance of the check.
The dropped jaw.
The emptied pockets.
The last penny.
The bolt for the door.
The hat.
The street.
The lack of car fare.
The long walk up town.
The limping home.
The Bed.

5 Comments

Filed under miscellaneous

5 responses to “The artist dines out

  1. Henry Voigt

    This poem wonderfully conveys one of the typical dining experiences of the era. The typed original was included in a brilliant exhibition of artist’s “to-do” lists at the Morgan Library last year.

  2. My favorite line is, …the thumb in the soup. Yeech!

  3. Murphy

    This particular “dissipating school teacher” is venturing to the Metropolis in barely a week, with all the delicate bravado I can muster, and my spaghetti fork is already a-tremble!

  4. Tom Byg

    very well done…
    reminds me of a Churchill quote…As a young man, Churchill was asked by a friend about the London dinner party he had attended the night before.

    “Well, ” replied Churchill, “it would have been splendid . . . if the wine had been as cold as the soup, the beef as rare as the service, the brandy as old as the fish, and the maid as willing as the duchess.”

    …thanks again for the column

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