One way or another Othello Pollard found ways to make a big impression in Cambridge MA in his relatively short tenure there as a caterer and restaurateur.
In 1794 he was listed as a member of The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, in Philadelphia, said to be the first “African” church in America. A short time later he came to the Boston area, marrying a woman in 1799 who kept a boarding house there.
Although I couldn’t find anything about where he was born, I suspect he may have been a freed slave from Haiti, then known as Saint Dominigue.
In 1801 he and his wife moved to a site on Tremont Street in Cambridge MA across from “the mall,” a shaded walk. They were near the Columbian Museum, which housed wax figures and advertised “curiosities” that included an elephant that drank liquor.
Othello knew how to get attention, for instance by wearing a diamond pinkie ring. In 1802, about six months before he established his eating place “for ladies and gentlemen,” he advertised an attraction perhaps inspired by the Museum: a live leopard.
Maybe the leopard was not as big a draw as he had hoped, though, because in August 1802 he placed an elaborate advertisement for his “Attic Bower” supplied with “epicurean dainties” such as bread, butter, cheese, ham, tongue, ice cream, custards, “whip syllabubs,” pies, jellies, olives, pickles and all kinds of fruit, along with wine, brandy, gin, ice punch, cordials, spirits, bitters, and porter.
His advertisement was peppered with classical allusions and Latin phrases, such as in the above excerpt, roughly translated, “Where are you taking me, Bacchus?” According to The Wine Bible, ancient Falernian wine was so sought after in its time that “you practically had to be the emperor of Rome to get a taste,” so his claim to have some might have been a gimmick.
A short time later, he ran a longer advertisement with an expanded bill of fare [shown above] that included heartier food – introduced under intriguing headings – and indicated to patrons what kinds of money he would take in exchange.
No one could quite decide if he had composed his unusual advertisements himself, or whether the author was one of his regular visitors from Harvard who, perhaps, offered his writing skills as payment while short of funds.
When a fire wiped out his Attic Bower in 1803 he moved farther along Tremont, next door to a tavern, and appealed once again to “gentlemen of delicate taste, and well educated appetites.”
A little more than a year later, he moved again in the same general vicinity. In 1805 he notified Harvard students that he would not be able to entertain graduates as he had done for the past four years because he did not have enough space.
His last location seemed to be in Boston, where I found an advertisement for his coffee house in 1805. He simply mentioned having turtle soup, worded with what could be read as a resigned tone. Then he just seemed to disappear. He still remains a mystery, even though articles recalling him continued to appear as late as 1908.
© Jan Whitaker, 2023