Tag Archives: holiday menus

Famous in its day: the Blue Parrot Tea Room

blueparrot1920sjpg“Hoity toity” was how a resident of Gettysburg PA in the 1980s remembered The Blue Parrot Tea Room in its heyday.

The tea room opened in 1920 on the Lincoln Highway (aka Chambersburg street) through Gettysburg [pictured above, before 1928]. Known initially as the Blue Parrot Tea Garden (rendered on its large lighted sign in pseudo-“Oriental” lettering), it was a soda fountain, candy store, and lunch spot at first. It quickly earned a reputation as an eating place for “discriminating” diners, according to its advertisement in the 1922 Automobile Blue Book [shown below]. Later advertising described the restaurant as modern, sanitary, and perfect for people who ran an “efficient table” at home.

blueparrotautobluebook1922

Its creator was Charles T. Ziegler, who spent years on the road as a salesman for a Chicago firm, returning to his hometown to open a gift shop in 1916 with the then-trendy name of Gifts Unusual. His shop featured imported articles such as Japanese household items and kimonos. In 1917 he bought the building his shop was in, turning it into a tea room a few years later.

blueparrotfoyer

blueparrotdiningroom

The tea room’s artistic decor, elements of which had reportedly come from England and Belgium, was of great interest to Gettysburgers. The sign on the front of the building was illuminated with 275 small lights (this was before neon). Thirty feet in length and topped with a blue parrot, the Gettysburg Times declared it “one of the most pretentious between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.”

In 1927 a visitor noted fine aspects of the Blue Parrot that he observed, many vouched for by their brand names, such as Shenango China and Community Silver. He was pleased to note that the kitchen was shiny and spotless and even the potato peeler was “cleaned to perfection.” He was also gratified by the back yard area where “every fowl is killed, cleaned and dressed by the kitchen staff.”

blueparrotadvjuly1921The Blue Parrot remained the place to go for decades. Local colleges held dinners there, as did fraternal organizations and women’s clubs. Guests included bishops, Washington dignitaries, Harrisburg business men, and traveling celebrities. A high point came in 1926 when Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Gloria Swanson and her husband, the Marquis de la Falause, stopped for dinner on a chauffeured road trip following the New York funeral of Rudolph Valentino.

The Blue Parrot could be counted on to furnish special holiday meals for Thanksgiving, New Year’s Day, and Easter. In 1924 it published the following menu for Thanksgiving Dinner, served from 11 am to 9 pm.

Grape Fruit
Oyster Cocktail
Bisque of Tomato
Celery              Olives
Salted Nuts
Roast Vermont Turkey English Filling
Giblet Gravy            Cranberry Jelly
Orange Sherbert [sic]
Mashed Potatoes             Green Spinach au Egg
Waldorf Salad
Hot Mince Pie                            Lemon Meringue
Pineapple Parfait                   Chocolate Ice Cream
Mixed Fruit Ice Cream
Mints
Café Noir

Dinners at the Blue Parrot in the 1920s ran from $1.25 to $1.50, while lunches were often 75 cents. The tea room advertised its prices as moderate, yet probably they would have been out of reach for many of Gettysburg’s working class residents. In the 1930s Depression the Blue Parrot, like so many other restaurants, was forced to lower its prices considerably. In the mid-1930s it offered lunch platters at 30 cents and New Year’s and Thanksgiving dinners for as little as 50 cents.

No doubt the end of Prohibition was a life saver for the Blue Parrot. As soon as beer became legal in 1933, Ziegler opened a Blue Parrot Tap Room and Grill on the second floor, with extended hours, Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap, and 10-cent crab cakes and sandwiches. He was at the head of the line for a full liquor license when they became available a few months later. The bar and grill had a western slant with rustic log cabin decor, knotty pine paneling, and a wagon wheel light fixture, all likely meant to appeal to a wide range of male customers.

blueparrotnowIn 1944 Ziegler sold the business to Gettysburg’s fire chief, James Aumen, who ran it for the next ten years, after which it had a succession of owners. Even in recent times, the original name has continued as the Blue Parrot Bistro, and now the Parrot.

© Jan Whitaker, 2016

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Filed under food, menus, proprietors & careers, restaurant decor, signs, tea shops

Christmas feasting

Last year, thanks to a travel screw-up, we found ourselves eating Christmas dinner at a San Francisco hotel. It was new and chic, with a highly rated chef, so we could have fared much worse … and yet we were dissatisfied. There was something pompous about how dramatically the waiters poured soup from pitchers into bowls which had been daubed artistically with creme fraiche. Not to mention all the other absurd ceremony that surrounded the meal yet failed to prevent orders from being mixed up and food from arriving burnt or cold.

Anyway, this got me wondering about eating Christmas dinner in hotels roughly100 years ago, around the turn of the last century when lengthy formal dinners were still in vogue. Even though hotels were the best places other than home to have a holiday dinner then, I’m not sure we would have liked that experience any better.

For one thing, who could eat all the food hotels piled on? The menu shown here represents my distillation of the most typical dishes from about 20 Christmas dinner menus of American hotels from 1898 to 1906. I’ve selected only one dish for each course, whereas the actual menus often had three or more and diners could choose as many as they wanted! Though the number and sequence of the courses varied somewhat from hotel to hotel, the most common arrangement was as shown here. The meal began with Oysters (a course all their own in the U.S.), then Soups, Relishes, Fish, Relevé (featuring a roast despite a later Roasts course – I don’t get it), Entrées, Vegetables, Roasts, Game, Salads, Desserts (which could be subdivided, with hot desserts coming first, under Entremets), Cheese, and ending with Coffee. Strictly speaking the Relishes, Vegetables, and Salads are not separate courses as they would be served with other dishes. So I believe the sample shown here would be an 8-course dinner. Each course would have been accompanied with wine and brandy may have been served with the coffee.

There were some interesting regional dishes on the menus I looked at. The Hotel Metropole in Fargo ND offered Saddle of Antelope; the New Century Hotel in Union SC had Pompano and Carolina Quail; while the Tulane Hotel in Nashville had Stuffed Mangoes*, Fried Hominy, and Dew Drop Corn. The Hollenbeck Hotel in Los Angeles mentioned that its Turkey was “Pomona Farm Fed” and featured a salad of Monk’s Beard greens. Two hotels, in Alabama and Michigan, presented Suckling Pig that had been barbecued. Without doubt the most unusual menu was that of Jack H. Clancey’s Hotel Mabson, primarily accommodating traveling salesmen in Montgomery, Alabama. In addition to Pompano and Barbecued Suckling Pig, its Christmas menu – the only one entirely devoid of French – introduced dishes seen nowhere else such as Stuffed Tomatoes, Scrambled Calf’s Brains, and Grandma’s Fruit Cake.

Whatever kind of dinner you eat on Christmas Day, enjoy it!

* Thanks to food historian Gary Allen for decoding stuffed mangoes as stuffed bell peppers.

© Jan Whitaker, 2009

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Filed under food, restaurant customs