Tag Archives: restaurant patrons

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.

Highlights

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

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Celebrating restaurant cuisine

“Recherché viands.” “Splendid appurtenances.” “Bibular veritabilities.” Wonderfully novel words of praise have been spun by proprietors, patrons, and reviewers in praise of restaurants and their fare. Although the modern era produces few phrases so elaborate as those before the Civil War, the examples below show there are no end of restaurant features that can be lauded.

1816 The owner of the Town and Country Refectory in Providence promises his meats and liquors are “calculated to make glad the heart of man, to revivify exhausted nature, to restore the valetudinarian to health, and to refresh the weary traveller.”

1838 A patron says of a dinner at the American and French Restaurant, Washington DC: “…it was one of the most splendid entertainments ever served up at a public house in the United States, and I much doubt whether the London Tavern, the Café de Paris, the Rocher de Cancale, or any other restaurant or hotel in Paris or London ever surpassed it, either in the qualities of sumptuous and recherché viands, splendid appurtenances, or fine wines.”

1855 Touting Shelley’s Restaurant Sans Pareil, NYC, a notice says “Gentlemen curious in gastronomy, and choice in their selection of Epicurean Varieties and bibular veritabilities, must of necessity visit this classically chaste Palazzo, sooner or later.”

1878 Tony Faust’s Café and Oyster House, St. Louis, claims to be where people can “enjoy the finest oysters ever introduced into this market; delicate brook trout, the most delicious wines, the excellent Anheuser beer, a fragrant cigar, or any of those palatable and delicious articles which make our appetites so vigorous and unruly.”

1896 At a small Brooklyn restaurant run entirely by women, a diner is dazzled by its graham bread, which “recalls the hasheesh of Monte Cristo, or the most entrancing story you ever read of the effect of opium. After the first taste you think you’ve found a new kind of nut, the sweetest ever known.”

1921 A Chicago tea room prefers cultured guests and claims “you will observe, seated about the blue tables at Le Petit Gourmet, discerning men and women, who delight in having found a dining room where the cuisine of the most celebrated continental cafes has been equalled.”

1930 At Trotsky’s, 155 West 35th Street, NYC, Hyman Trotsky (brother of Leon*) runs a restaurant “where unusually good food and a strict observance of the dietary laws goes hand in hand!” No butter is served with the meals and “the waiters delight in sassing you back.”

1936 According to its management, the mission of the Riviera Restaurant in San Francisco is to introduce “The famous foods and glamorous environment … of romantic Cannes, Nice, Monte Carlo, San Remo, Genoa! Tempting dishes, delightfully different menus, prepared by a master chef!”

1949 At Karl Ratzsch’s “old world restaurant” in Milwaukee, the management asserts “our Guest-Book proves that World Celebrities flock to us for their favorite Old or New World Dishes.”

1958 A columnist exclaims that L’Escoffier, in the Beverly Hilton, which brands the hotel “for all times as a gourmet’s paradise” is “the best expense-account spot in town.”

1961 In the Van Nuys CA area, The Quail bills itself as “The Gourmet Roadhouse – The Valley’s Most Elegant Secluded Twosome Restaurant.”

1969 Terry Lomax’s El Rancho in Amarillo TX advertises “All You Can Eat! A Wonderful World of True Authentic Italian Spaghetti Awaits You! Cooked the Old World Way. Truly a Gourmet’s Delight.”

1988 A reviewer writes of 72 Market Street, Venice CA, “The food is as wonderful as a perfect wave …”

* A reader has checked Leon Trotsky’s genealogy and found no sibling named Hyman, so it would appear the source I used for this was mistaken. The NY restaurant was, in fact, spelled Trotzky’s.

© Jan Whitaker, 2010

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