I got lucky at a vintage postcard show this weekend and found this mid-1950s menu from a once popular restaurant in Boston’s theater district. Yes, believe it or not, Boston did have a downtown entertainment zone with night-clubby restaurants such as Steuben’s at 114 Boylston Street near Tremont, not far from another such place, the Hi-Da-Way. The neighborhood – which later came to be known locally as “the Combat Zone” — was eventually taken over by strip clubs, adult bookstores, and X-rated movie theaters.
The menu exudes a spirit of hilarity and puts Steuben’s in a category which I think of as the “nut club.” These were mid-century places where church-going suburbanites went occasionally to take a break from rationality and good behavior. It seems as though they proliferated after World War II — what you might think of as the PTSD therapy of that era.
Café Midnight was the part of Steuben’s that catered to the late-night crowd which often included celebrities performing in town who came there after their shows to unwind. At its peak, the restaurant expanded into five rooms, featured floor shows, Latin music in The Cave, and a radio broadcast by host Don Dennis who enthused about the restaurant’s cheese cake.
Steuben’s was established in 1932 by two Austrian-born Jewish brothers, Joseph and Max Schneider. At that time it featured a 63-foot long soda bar but clearly its opening was in anticipation of the much-awaited end of Prohibition. About a year later the restaurant was one of the first 114 “common victuallers” in Boston to get a full liquor license.
The restaurant was not kosher but it served dishes such as smoked salmon and cream cheese on a bagel, kippered herring with scrambled eggs, and chopped chicken livers. But the late-night menu also included standard restaurant fare such as steak sandwiches and grilled cheese with Canadian bacon. During the daytime Steuben’s Dutch dining room advertised lobster and turkey specials for shoppers.
Steuben’s closed sometime in the early 1970s. Co-founder Max Schneider, who also operated Ye Olde Brass Rail restaurant in Boston, died in 1975, Joseph in 1986. The brothers also owned the Blue and Gold Corp. which managed concessions at the Lincoln Downs racetrack in Rhode Island and Suffolk Downs in East Boston.
© Jan Whitaker, 2011