Category Archives: outdoor restaurants

Dining in a garden

Pleasure gardens of the 18th and early 19th centuries, sometimes called tea or mead gardens, typically opened on May 1 and offered relief from summer heat. Garden dining could be as simple as a tent in the back yard of an eating place or as elaborate as a larger garden with walkways, fruit trees, and arbors. A Philadelphia tea garden of 1798 furnished “tables, benches, boxes, bowers, etc.” The “etc.” might have included colored lights, or even small rustic cabins.

Garden guests ranged from families and young couples to “gentlemen farming parties.” In many of the gardens, menus were limited to delicacies such as ice cream, confectionery, lemonade, iced drinks, teas and coffees, and of course wines and liquors.

But others served more substantial food that fell under the heading “relishes.” Today relishes are condiments but then the word referred to a wide range of hot or cold edibles, including steaks and chops, oysters, rarebits, poached eggs, omelets, kidneys, sardines, anchovies, sandwiches, savory patties, tripe, pigs’ feet, and soup. Relishes tended to be salty, no doubt to encourage drinking, and were usually “available any time.”

The early 19th-century gardens were meant to attract genteel folks, though I’ve run across a couple of advertisements suggesting it wasn’t so easy to discourage problem guests. The owner of a garden in Wilmington DE advertised in 1803 that he was opening his “elegant Mead and Flower Garden” for those who would “observe the strictest order and decorum” and not “injure his garden or molest his flowers.” Nicholas Pierson, in 1827, was evidently concerned that unaccompanied women (understood to be prostitutes) would want to enter his mead garden.

Unlike other drinking places, gardens were acceptable for women (if escorted). According to one report, mead — a sweet concoction of fermented honey and spices — was one of their favorite drinks. Mead gardens were more popular before the temperance movement took hold in the 1830s.

Tea and mead gardens were fading when German beer gardens appeared on the scene in the 1850s and 1860s, usually consisting of rows of tables in an open air setting amidst groves of trees, but not really a garden — and not usually providing food.

Dining in a garden once again became popular in the early 1900s, only now, in addition to outdoor gardens such as New York’s Terrace Garden and others on the roofs of tall buildings, there were many indoors, making them available year round. Natural touches included pendulous boughs draped from ceiling lattices, burbling fountains, potted palm fronds that threatened to tickle guests’ necks, and sometimes blue-painted ceilings twinkling with tiny stars.

Department stores adopted garden motifs as did tea rooms where one could dine in an actual garden or, in rural New England, on the front lawn of the proprietor’s home. Tea rooms that chose a garden theme for indoors leaned heavily toward a Japanese style invoked rather simply with flower-strewn trellises and a bit of wicker or paper lanterns, as did Schrafft’s in Syracuse NY and the tea room at the Vantine store in NYC [above photo, 1906]. Actual Asian restaurants, on the other hand, were likely to include the word garden in their name, but that did not necessarily imply they had an actual garden.

Undoubtedly, one of the most flamboyant indoor garden restaurants was Clifton’s “Pacific Seas” Cafeteria in Los Angeles [pictured]. Indoor palm trees are always impressive, as are neon flowers, multiple waterfalls (12), and volcanic rock. Clifton’s was but one of the many restaurants with indoor gardens that proved eye-catching yet less than totally convincing in terms of their relation to nature. [below, Stouffer’s Top of the Mart, Atlanta]

Today a restaurant garden, while in many cases still a popular place to eat in nice weather, is as likely to be a place where vegetables or herbs are grown and harvested.

© Jan Whitaker, 2018

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Eating, dining, and snacking at the fair

1964World'sFairChunKingphoto

Fifty years ago the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair was underway, with thousands going through the turnstiles. Sooner or later they had to eat. Some brought a picnic but others patronized the roughly 110 restaurants in operation the first season, up to nearly 200 in 1965.

The Fair was not officially sanctioned by the Bureau of International Expositions nor supported by governments (for the most part); it was a commercial enterprise filled with corporate pavilions such as Johnson’s Wax, General Motors, and Travelers Insurance. Most of the restaurants were run by private entrepreneurs who were not necessarily from the country represented by the pavilion. Restaurant Associates, which operated Mamma Leone’s, The Four Seasons, and others in NYC, ran the restaurant in the Indonesian Pavilion and five others. New York’s Sun Luck chain ran the Cathay Chinese Restaurant in the Hong Kong Pavilion.

1964NYWorld'sFairBrassRailsnackbarBiggest of all, the Brass Rail operated six moderate-priced restaurants, each offering a single complete meal for $3. In the International Plaza they ran both a cold Danish buffet and the Garden restaurant offering Southern fried chicken dinners. The company, a subsidiary of Interstate Vending Co. in Chicago, also had 25 freestanding snack bars with balloon-shaped roofs that looked as though they could lift off and float away.

Most of the eating places at the Fair supplied casual food and snacks, whether strawberry and whipped cream filled Bel-gem waffles (the hit of the Fair), Wienerwald hot dogs, or Chicken Delight(s). Providing plentiful fast food was based on the belief that non-New Yorker Americans would accept nothing else. Keep in mind too that it was the mid-1960s before the culinary revolution came along with its hopes of replacing industrially produced convenience food.

There was also no shortage of exotic cocktails served at tiki bars and lounges, and American and imported beers flowing in beer gardens. During groundbreaking for the Schaefer Brewing Company Center, which contained Schaefer’s Restaurant of Tomorrow and a beer garden, Fair president Robert Moses advanced a surprising perspective on the Fair’s theme, Peace through Understanding, by declaring that beer was probably “the thing that holds the world together.”

International edibles ranged from the passably authentic to the thoroughly Americanized. Yet however tame the Fair’s version of world cuisine often was, those fairgoers daring enough to go beyond burgers and dogs found a wide selection of food unknown to most Americans then. Among the many unfamiliar dishes were smoked reindeer at the Swedish Pavilion, spicy Korean spareribs, and stewed meat with peanuts and couscous at the Tree House restaurant in the African Pavilion.

1964NYWorld'sFairChunKingRepresenting American-style Chinese food was the Chun King Inn, whose mission was not so much to run a profitable restaurant as to familarize people with Chun King products sold in supermarkets. It won over the public — who often complained about high restaurant prices at the Fair — by serving full meals consisting of seven items for only 99 cents. The Inn also featured a double-patty Hong Kong Burger with cheese, lettuce, special sauce – and bean sprouts for an Asian touch. Many restaurants did poorly at the Fair, but Chun King’s president reported that the Inn served 5 million customers the first year.

Probably the most successful restaurants were those directed by veterans of earlier Fairs, particularly Seattle’s in 1962 and New York’s in 1939. Repeaters from 1939 included the operator of the Century Grill who had run the Aviation Grill in 1939 and Schaefer Brewing Co.  Seattle businessmen subleased a restaurant in the Fine Arts Pavilion named the Bargreen Buffet to Roy Peterson, proprietor of Seattle restaurants including the Norselander. Another restaurateur from Seattle, William Moultray, did so well with his Polynesian restaurant in 1964 that Fair officials asked him to set up a restaurant complex in another pavilion.

1965World'sFairBelgianVillage

The Belgian Village [shown above in part] consisted of 100 buildings and 20 eating places, some of them outdoor cafes, but was not completed until the end of 1964. A similar village with some of the same buildings had been at Chicago’s Century of Progress Exposition in 1933.

Although critics were disappointed that there was nothing to equal Henri Soulé’s 1939 French restaurant (origin of NYC’s Le Pavillon), everyone agreed that the restaurants in the Spanish Pavilion came closest. Unlike most, it was officially supported by Spain’s government, headed at that time by dictator Francisco Franco. Two restaurants in the pavilion, the moderately priced Granada and the expensive Toledo, were under the management of Madrid’s Jockey Club which imported its chef and 40 of his assistants. So popular was the pavilion’s outdoor seafood bar, the Marisqueria, that it was enlarged in 1965. It was under the direction of Alberto Heras who opened a Spanish Pavilion restaurant on Park Avenue in NYC in 1966.

1964World'sFairFiveVolcanoesRestHeras was one of several restaurateurs who tried to extend their success beyond the Fair. The Spanish Pavilion building was removed to St. Louis by then-mayor Alfonso Cervantes, where it housed three restaurants that met a rapid demise. The maestro of Wienerwald, Friedrich Jahn, extended the Europe-based chain into this country. It had grown to 880 units by the early 1980s when it failed. The Petersons of the Bargreen Buffet took over management of New York’s venerable Janssen’s restaurant. The Wisconsin Pavilion’s Tad’s Steaks, with its popular $1.19 sirloin steak dinners, became a fixture with bargain-meal hunters in NYC.

Although the Fair fell short of meeting its attendance goal of 70 million, drawing only 52 million fairgoers, it’s likely that millions of them carried away lasting food memories.

© Jan Whitaker, 2014

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Famous in its day: Busch’s Grove

Busch’s Grove was a clubby, table-hopping haunt of privileged residents of Ladue, Missouri, and its environs. An unpretentious white frame roadhouse fronting right on a busy thoroughfare, it didn’t look like much from the outside – or the inside for that matter. It didn’t need to show off. This was its charm.

I ate there just once, in the 1970s. I wanted to experience eating in one of the screened-in log huts in the restaurant’s back yard (pictured, courtesy Esley Hamilton). Even then they seemed quaintly out of sync with the times. I have no idea what I ate. What sticks in my mind is the elderly woman alone in the next hut with her dog. I remember a tall, white coated waiter bringing the dog’s dinner, a large serving of prime rib.

Prime rib was what you’d expect at a restaurant as traditional as Busch’s Grove. As were iceberg lettuce, shrimp cocktail, and squishy soft dinner rolls. It was the kind of place where it wasn’t a bad idea to have a few Manhattans or whiskey sours before tackling your meal. Nevertheless, in 1958 Holiday magazine gave the Grove a “Dining Distinction” award.

As for the food revolution of the 1970s, it didn’t happen here. In 1998 a review by Joe and Ann Pollack in their book Beyond Toasted Ravioli made it sound as though the Grove was permanently stuck in the beef & bourbon 1950s. Though ostensibly giving a favorable report, they identified numerous red flags for discriminating diners such as packaged croutons; the strange “viscous texture” of the microwave-heated vichyssoise; garlic powder in salad dressings; vegetable medleys; and potatoes baked in foil. Perhaps the old roadhouse was in decline.

The Pollaks characterized the restaurant’s decor as “Ralph Lauren when Ralph was still selling ties.” “Dowdy” would have been equally apt. But keep in mind that Ladue was (is?) the kind of town where actual living conditions could surprise you: such as the cockroach I once saw crawling on expensive grasscloth wallpaper in one stately mansion, or another estate filled with ancestral oil paintings but lacking air conditioning despite St. Louis’s tropical summers.

Busch’s Grove began its hospitality career in the 1860s as a stage coach stop 10 miles west of downtown St. Louis. It was not known as Busch’s Grove until it was taken over by John Busch in 1891. In the 1920s, when it was run by Busch’s son and a partner, the surrounding community of Ladue had grown into a woodsy enclave of wealthy families attracted in part by a number of country clubs that had located there. The restaurant served as an unofficial annex to the nearby St. Louis Country Club. No doubt patronage also derived from Ladue’s elite prep schools, among them John Burroughs, Country Day, Mary Institute, Chaminade, Villa, and Priory.

Until 1973 the restaurant contained a bar for men only, perhaps explaining its reputation as a hangout for power brokers. When it was nominated for the National Register of Historic Places in 1981, the researchers interviewed a patron of 30 years who remarked, ‘Some of the biggest early deals in St. Louis County politics and finance were arranged in this restaurant.”

Old patrons mourned when the restaurant closed a few years ago and was razed, along with the log huts.

© Jan Whitaker, 2010

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Famous in its day: Tony Faust’s

By the 1880s Anthony E. Faust had established quite a culinary empire in St. Louis. He ran a Café and Oyster House downtown on Broadway which had a nationwide reputation. Since 1878 it had featured rooftop dining, uncommon in the U.S. then. From his adjoining “Fulton Market” he also retailed and wholesaled “Faust’s Own” oysters and other delicacies such as truffles, soy sauce, and curry powder which he shipped to Southwestern and Western states. His Faust label beer, made for him by the Anheuser brewery, was also sold in the West.

He didn’t start out in the food business but as an ornamental plasterer who immigrated from the Prussian province of Westphalia at age 17. After being accidentally shot while watching a parade, he gave up his trade and decided to open a café in 1865.

Obviously he had a knack for the new business. And it helped that St. Louis was a booming hub of shipping and commerce positioning itself to dominate commerce with the West. His closeness to the Adolphus Busch family of beer fame was undoubtedly another asset. In 1886 Tony opened a second restaurant in a huge new Exposition Building on Olive Street between 13th and 14th which hosted conventions of architects, music teachers, fraternal organizations, and the Democratic National Convention of 1888.

In the late 1880s he razed his restaurant and replaced it with a finer building. With an interior of carved mahogany woodwork, a tapestried ceiling, and an elaborate mosaic tile floor, the restaurant catered to the fashionable after-theater crowd. At some point, perhaps in 1889, a second story was added, eliminating the rooftop garden (above image, ca. 1906).

Success seemed to mean Tony could do as he wished. Caught serving prairie chickens out of season (under the frankly fraudulent name “Virginia owls”), he freely confessed and flippantly said he’d pay the fine or “break rock” if need be. When the Republican National Convention was held in St. Louis in 1896 he claimed his staff would not prepare or serve meals for Afro-American delegates. Even after the convention’s managers offered to hire a space, furnish stoves, and buy provisions to feed the black delegates if Faust would oversee the work, he absolutely refused to do it. Period.

In preparation for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair (the Louisiana Purchase Exposition), Faust joined half a dozen of St. Louis’s top restaurateurs in a trust, the St. Louis Catering Company, probably designed to buy in large quantities and possibly to set prices too. Faust went into partnership with New York’s Lüchow’s to create a Tyrolean Alps Restaurant at the Fair which seated 5,000 diners and featured costumed singers (pictured). It represented brewers’ interests as well, leading one observer to joke that the enormous beer hall should have been named “Budweiser Alps.” According to the Fair’s Official Program there was also a Faust restaurant in the Fair’s west pavilion on Art Hill.

At the time Tony Sr. died in 1906 the Faust empire included a second Fulton Market location, and another Faust restaurant in the Delmar Gardens amusement park in University City managed by his son Tony R. Faust. Like many a successful businessman in the Midwest, Tony R. went to NYC to see about opening a branch there. There was a Faust restaurant in NYC’s Columbus Circle in 1908 (pictured), but I am not certain whether this belonged to the St. Louis Fausts. In 1911 Tony Jr. was declared insane. After that his older brother Edward, an executive of Anheuser-Busch who was married to a daughter of Adolphus Busch, took over the restaurants and markets. The downtown restaurants in St. Louis and NYC, and probably the others as well, closed in 1915 and 1916, casualties of looming Prohibition.

© Jan Whitaker, 2010

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Restaurant-ing al fresco

Today there are many opportunities to eat outdoors, but for much of our history it was fairly uncommon. Partly explained by dust and dirt from unpaved roads, even in the 20th century when this had been overcome there were still few outdoor restaurants, particularly with the spread of air-conditioning after World War II. Though impossible to quantify, it’s possible that dining in open air was more in vogue in the late 18th century than in 1960.

“Pleasure gardens,” as they were called, were enjoyed in 18th-century American cities. Smaller ones were called tea gardens. Patrons, including whole families, were invited to lounge, stroll, and possibly spend the day. They offered a variety of food and drink, but by far the most popular order was ice cream. Many gardens were run by English tavern-keepers or French confectioners. New York’s Vauxhall Gardens, which contained a wax museum, was managed in the 1760s and 1770s by Sam Fraunces of the West Indies, later steward to George Washington. In 1798 a tea garden behind a Philadelphia tavern advertized it was “laid out in grass plats, provided with tables, benches, boxes, bowers, etc. and delightfully shaded by fruit trees.”

Outdoor gardens where patrons consumed mead, lemonade, and light snacks gave way around the Civil War to German beer gardens (Bismarck Gardens, Chicago, pictured) which, like tea gardens, were often situated on the outskirts of cities. They continued until the second decade of the 20th century when burgeoning suburbs wishing to eliminate alcohol purveyors succeeded in closing them down. Prohibition also defeated the dreams of American soldiers returning from WWI who had enjoyed sidewalk cafes in Paris and wanted to reproduce them in their homeland. But would they have caught on in a pragmatic country like America so dedicated to business and industry that sitting at a sidewalk café seemed like decadent loafing?

In truth dining outdoors was enjoyed by Americans mostly when they were in tourist mode, at the seashore or in Europe. Seasonal tea rooms delightfully situated in places such as Marblehead MA (pictured) commonly offered afternoon tea, lunch, and dinner on porches, lawns, and patios. World’s fairs were another place to enjoy Continental ways. Beginning with the 1876 Centennial in Philadelphia, fairs always included provisions for dining al fresco.

There were a few 20th-century exceptions to the general disinclination to dine outdoors. Rooftop restaurants, usually atop hotels such as the Astor (pictured here), attracted fashionable patrons around 1900 and persisted through the 1920s. New York had more than most cities, but they did flourish elsewhere, such as at San Antonio’s St. Anthony hotel. The title of “first” was claimed by St. Louis restaurateur Tony Faust who added rooftop dining in 1877.

And some odd artistic types — “bohemians” — enjoyed summertime dinners in the backyards of small Italian and French restaurants as early as the 1890s. By 1905, Town & Country magazine declared this habit had attained fad status among adventure seekers.

Louis Sherry claimed to have set up the first sidewalk café in this country, outside his Fifth Avenue restaurant in 1900. He wasn’t actually the first. In 1891 women out shopping in Manhattan liked to “eat al fresco under the vineclad, bush-shaded bower” in front of the Vienna Café. Not too surprisingly, the warmer climates of Florida and California proved most hospitable to sidewalk dining. The custom did not really catch on in a big way across the U.S., though. Those sidewalk cafes that were created in the mid-20th century, such as the St. Moritz Hotel’s Café de la Paix (NYC, pictured), usually advertised their Continental atmosphere, suggesting that eating on sidewalks had not yet earned true American status.

© Jan Whitaker, 2010

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