Tag Archives: 18th century

At the sign of the . . .

TavernsignsWalker'sTavernEarleTaverns and inns of the Colonial and Early American eras were ancestors to hotels, providing the all-important trio of beds, food, and alcoholic drinks. But they also supplied inspiration to eating places in later centuries, particularly tea rooms and, to a lesser extent, steak houses.

One of the most prominent features of taverns were their signboards. Borrowed from England and Europe, they depicted images of military heroes, courtly symbols, and local landmarks, with names to match. Animals of various colors were especially popular such as the White Swan, the Golden Horse, the Black Bear, or the Red Lion.

TavernsignsCTOldLion

Taverns actually had dual names, the proprietor’s and that of the image on the sign. Signs were linked to a place. Proprietors might move from tavern to tavern but signs stayed where they were. For example, a Boston tavern keeper of the 1760s named Francis Warden advertised that he kept a “public house of entertainment” at the sign of the Green Dragon. Earlier he had been at the Blue Anchor.

Tavern signs have often been admired for their originality, but even in the 18th century they were stereotyped. Artists who painted them often advertised that they had a stock of signs on hand and ready to go except for the lettering. This undoubtedly accounts for the many taverns called The White Horse, The Beehive [illustrated above], The Three Crowns, or The Bunch of Grapes.

tavernsigns1784NYCBy the start of the 19th century the reign of taverns was slowly coming to an end and being replaced by larger hotels. The decline of the tavern was hastened by the temperance movement in the 1830s and 1840s which saw them as dens of iniquity. A temperance advocate suggested tavern signs should bear truthful names such as “The Widow and Orphans Manufactory” or “The New England Rum Pit.” As towns outlawed the sale of liquor, many old tavern signs were pulled down and replaced with signs saying Temperance Hotel.

As taverns declined, nostalgia began to develop for their Days of Olde when jolly hosts greeted guests and ushered them inside to sip hot toddies at the fireplace. Books and newspaper stories appeared describing quaint tavern signs and names of yesteryear. Historical societies became interested in preserving the increasingly scarce old signs. A Boston lodge of the Masons fraternal organization which had been founded in The Bunch of Grapes acquired two of the four carved wooden bunches in 1883 and locked them away in a steel vault. A collector in Pennsylvania treasured a sign he discovered in the 1890s that had been painted in 1771 by famous English artist Benjamin West.

TavernSignsold100TeaRoomWomen, particularly those New Englanders who could trace their ancestry to Colonial times, became supporters of the preservation of American antiquities. Newly possible car travel encouraged them to explore former taverns in the countryside. Next they began to open tea rooms that celebrated Early America, many with names and signs from tavern days. It was as though taverns had returned, clean, ultra-respectable and without liquor and drunkenness. Tea, after all, was known as “the cup that cheers but does not inebriate.”

tavernsignstabbycatwenhamMAOne feature that did not survive was the political statement tavern signs had made back in the days when their keepers sided either with the British crown or the rebellious patriots. Another oddity was how many tea rooms adopted names that incorporated the words “At the Sign of” – preceding “the Green Kettle,” “the Golden Robin,” etc. Where a tavern of 1800 advertised it could be found “At the Sign of the Seven Stars,” a 20th-century tea room, had it used the same style of advertising, would have had to say it was “At the Sign of At the Sign of the Seven Stars.” The sign of At the sign of The Tea-Kettle and Tabby Cat adorned a tea room in Wenham MA.

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The sign for the Tea Tray, a tea room in Cornish NH, was painted by Maxfield Parrish and shows much more detail than old tavern signs would have included.

In the 1960s and 1970s some steak houses also adopted a tavern theme, with names such as Steak & Ale, Bird & Bottle, or Cork & Cleaver, but only as a superficial concept that did not include revival of old-fashioned signboards.

© Jan Whitaker, 2015

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Soup and spirits at the bar

soupIn the 1970s the National Park Service reconstructed the historic late-18th-century City Tavern in Philadelphia for use as a restaurant. An article that describes how the tavern was to be furnished noted that originally the bar was used for more than just serving alcoholic beverages. As a 1796 advertisement below shows, it also served soup which was kept hot on a stove behind the bar.

soup1796PhiladelphiaHaving soup available at the bar of a tavern or coffee house sounds odd today, but it was quite common in the late 18th century and the early 19th century. Some of the places that announced soup in their advertisements were ordinaries or coffee houses that served dinners and suppers at stated times or by arrangement. But others were primarily drinking places, such as Baker’s Porter Cellar which opened in Boston in 1796. It’s main purpose was to serve “wines and spirits of all kinds” and it specialized in “genuine draught and bottled London porter.”

soup1807NYCommonly, soup became available from 11 am until 1 pm each day, though some establishments offered it as early as 8 am and others kept serving it as late as 5 pm. A few times a week prized turtle soup would appear. In those places that were more than drinking spots and served full meals, soup was usually ready by 10 or 11 am, several hours in advance of the main meal.

soupTheEmporiumofArts&Sciences1815

So-called restorators, which were usually run by Frenchmen, always served soup, both as a standard part of a meal and alone in the morning, possibly with a glass of wine. Like the original Paris restaurants, based on soup and taking the name “restaurant” from it, they promised that their soup would restore health for those who were feeling under the weather. Boston’s Dorival & Deguise assured patrons that “nothing will be wanting on their part, to give Satisfaction, and restore Health to the Invalids, whose Constitutions require daily some of their rich, and well seasoned Brown, and other Soupes.”

I have seen one reference to an 1820s “soup and steak establishment,” that of Frederick Rouillard who carried on after the death of Julien’s wife in Boston, as well as running a hotel in Nahant MA. His “menu” reminds me of Paris bouillon parlors that served bouillon and bouilli, the bouillon being the strained liquid in which beef and vegetables had been simmered, and the bouilli being the beef which was served with the vegetables, all of it making an inexpensive two-dish meal.

Although some 19th-century Americans disliked the “foreign” French custom of beginning a meal with soup, soup soon became a standard part of most restaurant menus, as it still is. Advertisements for morning soups became rare in the 1830s, but I don’t know whether it was because it was so well-known a practice by then that there was no need to advertise or because it was no longer done.

© Jan Whitaker, 2014

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Menu vs. bill of fare

billoffare1876ClevelandThe short version is that Bill of Fare is English and Menu is French, and up until the 1920s the use of Bill of Fare was standard, but by the 1930s it had been almost universally supplanted by Menu. In a way it seems surprising that Menu won out and I wonder, was it because it’s shorter?

Commercially printed Bills of Fare were unknown before the late 1830s. But did that mean that previously diners had no idea what was being served until they sat down and saw what was being set out on the table? No.

As early as the American revolution, and no doubt much before that, public eating places (whether taverns, inns, coffee houses, or eating houses) provided a written list of what they were serving that day. For instance a New York paper advertised in 1777 that at Mrs. Treville’s “the bill of fare is to be seen in the coffee room every forenoon.” In other places, too, around 10 or 11 a.m. a list of what was to be served that day would appear.

How the Bill of Fare was presented is never described, alas. Since paper was rare and expensive then, I would guess that it was usually chalked on a board.

It is also interesting that more than a few eating places in the early Republic followed the (supposedly French) innovation of letting guests choose their dishes and pay accordingly rather than charging them a set fee for pre-chosen dishes. Baltimore’s Freemason’s Tavern and Coffee House in 1796 advertised that “A bill of fare, with the price of each article, will be fixed up in the public room, so that gentlemen may chuse [sic] their own dinners, at any price, from a quarter of a dollar upwards.”

In the cheapest eating places the day’s offerings were recited verbally at the door, presumably because most patrons could not read.

In the 1860s the word Menu came into use – often referred to in italics to indicate a foreign word. Special dinners and banquets at first-class eating places, such as Delmonico’s and a few hotels in the Northeast, were accompanied by souvenir Menu cards giving the dishes chosen for that event. Such a Menu, sometimes called a Carte du Diner, was often decorated with gold lettering, ribbons, and hand-colored illustrations.

By the late 1800s it was commonplace for the better hotels and restaurants to print a Menu, not Bill of Fare, for their special dinners, including those for holidays. Often some or all of the dishes were listed in French but this was not essential. As a manual published in 1896 called The Practical Hotel Steward explained, in American usage the word menu was popularly understood to indicate a “limited, choicely selected meal, as for a table d’hote dinner, a banquet, etc.”

BillofFare636

Bill of Fare remained in use up until roughly World War I, especially among everyday lunchrooms, such as Clerk’s (shown). It was so common, in fact, that it came as a surprise to me to discover an ordinary eating place that had no association with anything French using the term Menu in the first decade of the 20th century. What led Mann Fang Lowe on Pell Street, or Van Liew’s quick lunch, both in NYC, to head their list of dishes with the word Menu?

At that time Menu still carried an association with French terms and dishes – and with a degree of snobbishness that brought forth “just folks” humor such as the following from 1914:billoffare1914joke

But change continued nonetheless. In the 1920s, many restaurants switched from Bill of Fare to Menu, yet it was still enough of a transition period to produce some strange combinations such as an American, Italian & Chinese restaurant in St. Louis that termed its list an A La Carte Bill of Fare, or the Berkeley CA restaurant that printed Menu on the outside but Bill of Fare on the inside.

By the 1930s Menu had become the norm, with no suggestion whatsoever of any French connection, so much so that it didn’t seem a bit strange that drug store lunch counters used that term. If a restaurant wanted to put on French airs they would have to resort to Carte du Jour.

© Jan Whitaker, 2013

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Confectionery restaurants

A little-recognized restaurant type that has had considerable influence historically was the restaurant that grew out of or was associated with a confectionery business. The closest this type of eating place came to public acknowledgment was in the 1920s when the weird term “confectaurant” popped up in the West, mainly California. As silly as that might sound, confectionery restaurants as a class ranked among America’s finest and most elegant eating places.

For instance, Delmonico’s, the country’s finest restaurant in the 19th century, began as a confectionery shop serving chocolate, candies, and petits fours, then expanding into more substantial food. Peter Delmonico who founded the shop with his brother John in 1827 was a Swiss confectioner.

The list of well-known restaurants with confectionery connections is long and includes Fera’s, Maillard’s, Sherry’s, Rumpelmayer’s, Schrafft’s, Mary Elizabeth’s, and a number of early 20th century chains. These restaurants were known for being ultra-respectable – and clean — and they were especially popular with women.

Going back to the 18th century, Samuel Fraunces of New York’s landmark Fraunces Tavern produced confectionery. He advertised in 1766 that he could supply “Syllabubs, Creams, Blamois [Blanc Mange], Custards, Cakes and Pastries of all Sorts … Wedding Cakes … and a universal Assortment of Sweetmeats.” Catering and supplying wedding cakes were already  hallmarks of the confectionery restaurant.

At that time confectioners produced not only candies but fancy pastries, ice cream, and preserved and frozen fruits. These foods were distinctly different than those of the English tradition that dominated the eating-out scene up until about 1840. English eating places were  mostly about meat and alcoholic drinks. In strong contrast, the early confectioners who came to this country from France and Haiti were skilled practitioners of the more refined culinary arts.

Colonials and early Americans understood that consuming confections was somehow Parisian, certainly Continental. In 1773 M. Lenzi arrived upon the scene in New York straight from London and announced that he had catered “Balls, Masquerades, etc. in most of the principal cities of Europe.” He intended to sell “all sorts of fine French, English, Italian and German biskets, preserved fruits; also in brandy, jams, pates, and jellies” as well as “sugar plumbs.”

Up until the 1850s, a confectionery was more than a place to buy sweets. It was equally a restaurant for more discriminating diners. In 1790s Boston, French confectioner M. LeRebour furnished meals in “American, English, and Paris style.” New York’s Mrs. Poppleton, “Restaurateur, Pastry Cook, and Confectioner” supplied delicate items for discerning palates such as Savory Patties, Puff Pastry, Italian Sallads, Fish Sauces, Ornamental Hams, and Anchovy Toasts. In short, she advertised in 1815, she aimed to please “Persons inclined to indulge in the height of European luxury.”

The caterer-confectioner-restaurant complex continued throughout the 19th century and was found across the country. In 1889 Kansan J.C. Hopkins claimed to be the “Maillard’s of Topeka.”

Some interesting twists to the old traditions occurred in the 20th century when Greek immigrants flooded into the confectionery business shortly before it collapsed. Faced with competition from mass produced branded candy many of them expanded into the confectionery-restaurant-luncheonette-tea room business. About the same time the “chain store age” commenced and regional chains of tea room-like confectionery restaurants such as Schrafft’s, Loft’s, DeMet’s, Huyler’s, Reymer’s, Puritan, Priscilla, Pig’n Whistle, etc., grew. Another new twist was that many of the 20th-century places featured soda fountains. Many of these eating places were owned by Greek-Americans who often expanded their candy-making confectionery into a lunch  or tea room when packaged candy bars came to market in the 1920s.

Although the confectionery restaurants of the 20th century were more informal than many of their predecessors, they often had expensively decorated interiors with hardwood paneling and handsome fixtures. This was particularly true of confectaurants such as California’s Paulais. Even though many chain confectioneries became primarily places to grab a quick sandwich, something of their Continental heritage lingered on.

© Jan Whitaker, 2011

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Common victualing

When I started my blog I impulsively chose “victualling” [vit’ling] as my URL. In Massachusetts, restaurants still need to get a “common victualers” license when they open and I’ve often marveled at the survival of such a quaint term. If I hadn’t been in such a hurry when I set up my blog I would have thought to choose common victualer, with a single L, as my URL.

The term dates far back into English history. In 1714 there were four common victualers in Boston, one of whom was a woman. Victualers were distinguished from innholders in that they didn’t necessarily offer overnight accommodations for humans and animals, just meals and, of course equally important, drink. They also provisioned ships with long-lasting cooked food such as potted meats. Their places of business were invariably called either victualing houses or cellars, and they were cheaper and more basic than taverns, coffee houses, or restorators, all of which they outnumbered. In 1810 Boston had over 50 victualers but only seven taverns and coffee houses, and one restorator.

Over time I’ve realized what a perfect term common victualing is for my approach to the history of American restaurants. Here’s how.

1) I consider alcoholic beverages a critical factor in restaurant history. This country has long had deep divisions over the way alcohol should be consumed and by whom. It has even battled over whether Americans should drink at all and these battles have profoundly shaped our restaurants. One of the most notable differences between eating places in the 19th and 20th centuries is how many in the latter century – and now — serve neither fermented nor distilled alcoholic beverages.

2) I am more interested in the commonplace eatery than in rarified fine dining. I’m not inordinately fascinated with the most elite restaurants and when I do look at them I don’t treat them with special reverence. I take the position that common restaurants have been more important in the course of history.

3) The most important kind of food to victualers was meat and the early victualers were probably butchers with stands in public markets where they cooked meat on the spot for their customers. I always try to get to the “meat” of the story, even when my subject seems trivial – but I also appreciate how critical animal protein, including fish and fowl, has always been to American restaurant-goers.

4) Because they were cheap, sold liquor, and hosted market vendors and sailors, upright citizens held victualing establishments in low esteem. As a focus of moralistic outrage, they are of special interest because when I’m lucky enough to find a tirade against them it reveals something about the values of the time. The same can be said of how fast food chains catalyze criticism today.

The term victualing house pretty much fell out of use by about 1840 when it was replaced by the synonymous “eating house.”

© Jan Whitaker, 2011

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Variations on the word restaurant

Although I have found the word “restaurant” used as early as 1830, it wasn’t until about 1850 that it became common in the United States. Before that there were a variety of related words which can be seen developing into the present-day usage.

The first, in this country, was restorator, introduced as far as is known by Jean Baptiste Gilbert Julien in Boston (his restorator pictured below). A newspaper announced in July of 1793 that he had “established a HOTEL, in Leverett’s Lane, opposite the Quaker Meeting House, under the denomination of The RESTORATOR – by which it is to be understood a Resort where the infirm in health, the convalescent, and those whose attention to studious business occasions a lassitude of nature, can obtain the most suitable nourishment.”

The word restorator is an Anglicized version of the French word restaurateur. Restaurateur, in France of the late 18th century, meant an eating place where health-restoring soups (called “restaurants”) could be consumed. These were not just any kind of soups but what might almost be called liquid meat. M. Julien revealed in 1794 that he made his of “Good lean Beef, Veal and Fowls [and] Turtle flesh.”

Shortly after Julien began his restorator others did the same. Dorival & Deguise opened in Boston in 1796, promising to dress their victuals “in the American and French Modes.” They too furnished “Brown” and other soups. At the same time Claret & Mitchell opened a restorator in Charleston SC. By 1800 eating places calling themselves by this name were to be found in Philadelphia, Portsmouth NH, Salem MA, and Portland ME.

But very soon a variation, restorateur (also, less commonly, restaurator), began to crop up which more closely resembled the French word restaurateur, which also came into use then. The first mention of this I’ve found was in 1803, in Charleston, the State Coffee-House and Restaurateur Hotel. Meanwhile Boston clung to restorator, which appears occasionally as late as the 1860s.

Restaurateur soon began to take on a double meaning, applying both to a place and a profession, as in a somewhat ambiguous 1807 advertisement for “Charles Benoit, Restaurateur, who has moved to no. 1 Murray street [NYC], where he will run an Ordinary every day at 2 o’clock which he will keep ‘in the Parisien manner.’” By the 1830s restaurateur clearly denoted a profession.

One of the first uses of restaurant with reference to an eating place, if not the first, is on the occasion of the opening of Delmonico’s “Restaurant Francais” in 1831. I’ve also seen the word used to refer to eating places in New Orleans (1836), Washington (1838), and, amazingly enough even Boston (Ford’s Restaurant, 1843).

About the same time that the word restaurant was first adopted, another variation came into use minus the N: restaurat. The earliest use of this word I’ve seen is in 1821 in NYC, but also in New Orleans in 1837 (and 1863), Galveston in 1842, St. Louis in 1844, Houston in 1848 (and 1865), and San Antonio in 1853. Sometimes a period follows, suggesting the word might be an abbreviation for restaurateur. An encyclopedia published in NY in 1831 gives this explanation:
— Restaurateur, Fre., a cook, in France, who keeps victuals already dressed, to be served in the house or abroad, at the person’s request, of which he presents you a list for your choice, called carte du jour, a bill of fare.
— Restaurat, the house where the establishment of restaurateur is kept.

Was it because of restaurat’s ending – RAT — that restaurant won out?

© Jan Whitaker, 2010

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