Dining & wining on New Year’s Eve

I haven’t found evidence that people celebrated New Year’s Eve in restaurants or hotels much in the 19th century. But in the early 20th century it became a more popular thing to do. Having a reservation at a swanky place conferred status, as the 1912 drawing above is meant to illustrate.

If one dish ruled New Year’s Eve menus in the early 20th century it was roast turkey. It was the main dish at the Techau Tavern, “San Francisco’s Busiest and Handsomest High-Class Café,” shown here in 1909. Turkey with Cranberry Dressing and Chestnut Stuffing was preceded by Toke Point Oysters from Washington, Cream of Chicken Soup, Striped Bass, and Sweetbreads.

Turkey also dominated the 1912 New Year’s Eve menu at The Fern in Scranton PA, “An Eating Place of Refinement and Respectability.” The Fern featured a $1 dinner that was similar but even heftier than the Techau Tavern’s, with Blue Point Oysters, Cream of Chicken Soup, Baked Bluefish, Croustade of Lobster, Tenderloins of Beef, Roast Turkey, Sweetbreads, Banana Fritters, as well as all kinds of vegetables, salad, and pie. The Alt Heidelberg Café in Fort Wayne IN, and Tait’s in San Francisco provided similar menus.

Through the 1920s, it was not hard to find a place where one dollar or a little more would buy an elaborate dinner with an orchestra and dancing. In Seattle WA, New Year’s Eve entertainment at the Hotel Washington Annex included dinner plus a “lady vocalist” and the Whangdoodle Quartet, all for $1.25. The absence of (legal) alcohol in the 1920s did not dim festivities in Chicago nightspots in the Loop or on the South Side, where “handling a flask has never been considered flagrant.”

Despite tight economic times in the 1930s and war in the 1940s – or maybe because of these conditions — Americans showed continuing enthusiasm for celebrating the new year in restaurants and clubs. The repeal of Prohibition at the end of 1933 brought about heightened levels of good cheer. Not even higher prices at the end of 1934 discouraged revelers who paid from $7.50 to $15 per plate in NYC. Yet there were still bargains to be had as the accompanying 1935 menu from Kolb’s in New Orleans shows. Low prices also prevailed in Canton OH where sauerkraut and wieners were traditional.

After the war, menus reflected the growing importance of beef on New Year’s Eve – and throughout the year. The 1958 menu at Pike’s Verdugo Oaks in Glendale CA is representative, and not terribly different than menus found throughout the U.S. in later decades. The Raintree Room at the Continental Regency in Peoria IL in 1978, for example, offered beef or lobster, with salad, baked potato or french fries, and the ubiquitous cheesecake for dessert, a standard menu for a restaurant dinner in the last decades of the 20th century.

Whether you have steak or hot dogs this New Year’s Eve, have a good time and best wishes for 2018!

© Jan Whitaker, 2017


Filed under food, menus, night clubs, restaurant customs

8 responses to “Dining & wining on New Year’s Eve

  1. Jeff B

    Thank you for all the hard work involved in your articles. Going way back when living in Miami as a teen in the late 1950’s it was Jahn’s Ice cream parlor at Sunny Isles on Collins Ave (commonly know it as A1A) for my friends and I for date night or just fun gorging lots of ice cream or a burger or both. The restaurant was real nice, lots of whole globes everywhere like a ice cream parlor used to be like inside. The fountain bar too.
    Below, copy/paste from Wiki:
    “Jahn’s Family Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor was an old-fashioned ice cream parlor and restaurant with locations in the New York City area and Miami-Dade County, Florida, and was famous for its huge Kitchen Sink Sundae.
    The first location opened in 1897 by John Jahn at 138th Street and Alexander Avenue in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx New York. By the 1950s, there were Jahn’s locations across Brooklyn with the most popular in Flatbush,and others in Marine Park, Bay Ridge, Sheepshead Bay, the Fordham section of the Bronx, Jackson Heights, Forest Hills, Eastchester, East Meadow, West Islip, Great Neck, Williston Park, Rockville Centre, Cedarhurst, Union, New Jersey, Fair Lawn, New Jersey, Coral Gables, Florida, and Sunny Isles Beach, Florida.”
    John Jahn vacationed in Miami and so set up two locations as noted above.
    Close to Jahn’s at Sunny Isles was Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House, a noisy place for great sandwiches, this was a place my parents took me a few times, not really a teen place. The flashy Wolfie’s was on Collins Ave and Lincoln Road where the Cinerama movies played among other activities tourists and locals enjoyed including myself. I visited the Lincoln Road Wolfies in 2000 for a North Miami HS reunion. Lots of pictures of memories on the walls but died years ago but the place didn’t know it yet.

  2. sandra hunter

    Facebook has changed my entire page and contacts. I am not happy!! Column excellent as always! Happy New Year! If you find the column with my honorable mention send to me!!

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

  3. Tom

    Thank you, Jan for another great year of posts! I always look forward to what you will find next. A very happy 2018 to you!

  4. Martin Oppenheim

    A happy and healthy 2018 to you as well. Thanks for putting together this wonderful blog…

    Sent from my iPad


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.