Find of the day: J.B.G.’s French restaurant

FrenchtabledhoteJBG740

Last weekend I went to an antique paper show sponsored by the Ephemera Society of America where there were books and every sort of printed thing — maps, advertising cards, tickets, menus, postcards, posters, broadsides — for sale. I ended up buying only seven items, but one of them (shown above) was a gem.

I knew as soon as I spotted it that it was a relic of New York City’s old French quarter in which many restaurants flourished in the 19th century. The card probably dates from the latter years of the quarter, about 1904.

J.B.G.’s was operated by Jean Baptiste Guttin, who immigrated to the United States in 1872 and became a citizen in 1892. For many years he worked as a waiter at wine merchant Henri Mouquin’s well-known restaurant on Fulton Street. Then, in 1890, he took over a restaurant formerly run by A. Fourcade on West 25th street. Within a few years he changed the name to J.B.G. and moved down the street a bit.

frenchtabledhoteguttinMay1890Beginning in the 1890s the area from West 23rd to West 28th streets near Sixth avenue was the heart of the French quarter, which was said to be as much or more of a tight-knit community than the Chinese. It had earlier been situated farther downtown, south of Washington Square. By 1895 West 25th was the new restaurant row for French New Yorkers. The restaurants were also patronized by others who lived in the area, as well as adventurous “Bohemian” diners who came to soak up the atmosphere. Of course they also liked getting a six-course meal with red wine and coffee for 50 or 60 cents.

Described in the 1903 guide book Where and How to Dine in New York as “very French,” J.B.G.’s was a truly old-fashioned table d’hôte in that customers had no choice in dishes and didn’t know what they would be eating until it was set down before them.

Jean Baptiste Guttin was successful in the restaurant business. When he died in 1914 he left the then-considerable sum of $4,000 to NYC’s French Hospital as a way of thanking the late chocolate-maker and restaurateur Henry Maillard for advancing him a loan of the same amount “in a moment of difficulty.”

© Jan Whitaker, 2014

13 Comments

Filed under proprietors & careers

13 responses to “Find of the day: J.B.G.’s French restaurant

  1. This is great advertising, the opposite of the verbose style of the age. All you need to do is see the obviously French owner taking care of his customers and staying right on the tail of his chef. Did Drew Haley mention this place?

    • It’s quite possible, though in paging through a few likely sections of Turning the Tables, I didn’t find it. Another NYC “J. B.” was J. B. Martin. In many of the French table d’hotes the chef was madame (if she wasn’t the cashier).

  2. Virginia Tuttle

    Jan,

    Special thanks for this one! I’m reading up on 19th, early 20th century restaurants in NYC right now. I did not know about JBG, or that Guttin had worked at Mouquin’s. (Did you know that Benedetto Vancetti–of Saco and Vancetti–also worked in Mouquin’s kitchen, and that he quit because it was so disgusting he was afraid he’d get sick?) Mouquin and Maillard were early patrons of DH&M, one of the French range and copper cookware companies that I’m researching. We need to get together and talk about all this.

    Virginia

  3. Henry Voigt

    Great find Jan! Thanks for sharing.

  4. You find the coolest stuff, Jan! Can you imagine how unfathomable it would be today to go to a restaurant and have no decision on the menu? But I think it would be a fun adventure! 😉

  5. Jean B.

    Oh, gee. You sound like me riffling through boxes of ephemera. That is a really great find! I probably would have gotten it myself, even though my primary interest is cookery, information on same, and, of course, recipes. I used to say that I would get anything that had even one recipe in it. I still do to some extent, and I am also interested in the manufacturers of food and other pertinent products.

    • I did a lot of riffling that day! Great fun and strangely exhausting. Were you there?

      • Jean B.

        No. I live near Boston and am a wimpy driver. I agree about the exhaustion. It is not just the riffling, it is the shows themselves. One would think the riffling would be somewhat restful as well as fun. I don’t suppose you were riffling through Peter Luke’s boxes. Do you get to shows in the Boston area?

      • Yes, the lighting is always too dim and the stuff is so disorganized. I’ve been to a rare book show in Boston but I don’t really know of any good ephemera shows there. We went to one in Boxboro recently and I ended up with two things, not worth it. Actually I find more on e-Bay though that takes a lot of looking too.

      • Jean B.

        I used to always go to the Boxboro show, but it has really deteriorated. I didn’t get to the last one, but at the last show I went to I remember thinking it was probably in a downhill spiral. Bad shows lose their customer base, which leads to fewer dealers, etc.
        The upcoming show in Wilmington, Mass. should be good.

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