Tag Archives: lunch rooms

Taste of a decade: restaurants, 1900-1910

It is the dawn of the modern era of restaurant-ing. Patronage grows at a rate faster than population increases and the number of restaurant keepers swells by 75% during the decade. Leading restaurant cities are NYC, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, and Boston. Inexpensive lunch rooms with simple menus and quick service proliferate to serve growing ranks of urban white collar workers, both male and female. Women patronize places they once dared not enter, climbing onto lunch counter stools and venturing into cafes in the evening without escorts.

Diners worry about food safety and cleanliness. Cities mandate restaurant inspections. Meat preservatives used by some restaurants to “embalm” meat that has spoiled come under attack. Restaurants install sanitary white tile on floors and walls to demonstrate cleanliness.

Cooks and waiters unionize. Restaurant owners follow suit, advocating the abolition of the saloon’s “free lunch,” combating strikes, and targeting immigrants who operate “holes in the wall.” As Italians and Greeks open eating places some native-born Americans complain that foreigners are taking over the restaurant business.

New types of eating places become popular such as cafeterias, vegetarian cafés, German rathskellers, tea rooms, and Chinese and Italian restaurants. Dining for entertainment spreads. Adventurous young bohemians seek out small ethnic restaurants (“table d’hotes”) which serve free carafes of wine. Many restaurants introduce live music. The super-rich are accused of “reckless extravagance” as they stage elaborate banquets. The merely well-to-do hire chauffeurs to drive them to quaint dining spots in the countryside.


1901 As restaurant patronage rises “foody talk” is everywhere. A journalist overhears people “shamelessly discussing the quantity and quality of food which may be obtained for a given price at the various restaurants.” Hobbyists begin collecting menus and Frances “Frank” E. Buttolph deposits over 9,000 menus in the NY Public Library.

1902 Restaurants automate and eliminate waiters. In Niagara Falls a restaurant devises a system of 500 small cable cars which deliver orders to guests. The Automat opens in Philadelphia, inspiring the city’s Dumont’s Minstrels to create a vaudeville act called The Automatic Restaurant which features “Laughing Pie” and “Screaming Pudding.”

1903 “Where and How to Dine in New York” lists restaurants with cellars where men’s clubs play cavemen and eat steak with their hands. – Hawaiians croon in San Francisco restaurants; ragtime bands play in NYC’s Hungarian cafés; and at McDonald’s (“a touch of Bohemia right in the heart of Boston”) a “Young Ladies’ Orchestra” serenades patrons.

1903 In Denver, where a large part of the population eats out, a cooks’ and waiters’ strike closes large eating places. Strikes break out in Omaha and in Chicago, where a newly formed union rapidly gains 17,000 members. Restaurant owners replace black servers with white women in Chicago, while in Omaha they replace white waiters and cooks with black men.

1905 Five hundred guests of insurance magnate James Hazen Hyde don 18th-century costumes and enjoy a banquet at Sherry’s. Two floors of the NYC restaurant are transformed into a royal French garden and supper is served at tables under wistaria-covered arbors set on a floor of real grass.

1906 Afternoon tea is so fashionable that NYC’s Waldorf-Astoria supplements the Waldorf Garden space by opening the Empire Room from 4 to 6 p.m. – Italian-Americans Luisa and Gerome Leone start a small table d’hote restaurant in NYC near the Metropolitan Opera.*

1908 Johnson’s Tamale Grotto is established in San Francisco with “A Complete Selection of Mexican Foods to Take Home.” – In Washington, D.C., the Union Dairy Lunch advertises that they have passed inspection with “Everything as sanitary and clean as your own home.”

1909 The Philadelphia Inquirer features a story about stylish yet practical “restaurant frocks,” showing a coral pink dress and matching hat ideal for traveling in dusty, open automobiles while visiting rural roadside inns and tea rooms.

* Later known as Mamma Leone’s.

© Jan Whitaker, 2010

Read about other decades: 1800 to 1810; 1810 to 1820; 1820 to 1830; 1860 to 1870; 1890 to 1900; 1920 to 1930; 1930 to 1940; 1940 to 1950; 1950 to 1960; 1960 to 1970; 1970 to 1980


Filed under miscellaneous

Beans and beaneries

“Beanery” was less a name that an eating place would claim for itself than a slang term for a cheap and lowly lunch room. In these eating places baked beans was a staple dish going back at least as far as the mid-1800s. Milliken’s Beefsteak & Coffee Room in lower Manhattan offered its customers pork and beans in 1845. The price was 6 cents, the same, surprisingly, as roast beef or chicken pot pie.

Before sweet things became standard breakfast fare, baked beans were considered ideal for the morning meal. In fact the beauty of beans was that they made a square meal 24 hours a day. Like ham and eggs, they were favorites at all-night eating places. They could also be found in other nighttime establishments such as Silk & Anderson’s Saloon, Billiard and Keno Hall in Trinidad, Colorado, established in 1876, where baked beans, ham, and cole slaw made up the free “lunch” spread from 9:00 at night until 2:00 in the morning.

Baked beans could be found in restaurants all over the U.S. – Cincinnati, San Francisco, New Orleans – but it was in hard-edged Chicago, New York, and Boston where the slang term “beanery” especially captured the imagination of writers. Despite the unsentimental words of a 1908 hash house waitress, “There ain’t no romance about pork and beans or any of it. It’s all to the real life, and a punched check for a finish,” novelists of that time loved to set their tales of salty characters in big city beaneries.

Each city’s beaneries had a different character. Chicago’s South Clark Street, “toothpick row,” was full of them but beans also did duty in the city’s saloons where a 5¢ glass of beer earned a free lunch of beef and baked beans, with pickles, olives, and celery for trimmings. New York City was known for its “beef and” places, as they were called. The beef, in this case, was corned and everyone knew the missing word after beef was beans.

In Boston baked beans formed a considerable industry. Bakeries and other bean specialists ran hot ovens full of beanpots every night, turning out 32 million quarts annually which they delivered daily to restaurants and lunch counters. Baked beans often appeared on menus accompanied by brown bread, a combo known as “B. B. B. & B. B.” Even in 1921 when beans were slipping out of favor as a restaurant dish, the Childs chain found demand strong enough to keep them (and oysters) on their Boston breakfast menus.

It was said that baked beans was too frugal a dish to be popular in Los Angeles where garden produce was available year round. Yet “Ptomaine Tommy” DeForest laid claim to inventing a bean dish unique to L.A., the mysteriously named “size,” a hamburger on a bun covered with chili and diced raw onions.

By the 1960s Americans had outgrown their love of baked beans. In a restaurant trade book of 1966 they are listed as “foods to shun,” along with kidneys, chipped beef, turnips, and rutabagas.

© Jan Whitaker, 2008


Filed under food, lunch rooms