Monday, April 26, 2010

The Grub of 1859

Denver, 
1881


When the Society of Colorado Pioneers gathered for its first reunion in 1881 at the Windsor Hotel in Denver, the menu featured “grub.” Even so, the venue was first-class. Amidst its labyrinth of public rooms, the new 300-room Windsor boasted a Western Union office, a barber shop, and a tobacconist, along with several bars and restaurants. It was the largest and most luxurious hotel between the Palmer House in Chicago and the Palace Hotel in San Francisco.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hot-House Tomatoes

Holland House
New York City, 1897


Today the Café Au Bon Goût, on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 30th Street, has an enormous International buffet that is open 24/7. If you step inside and look up, you will see a beautifully molded ceiling. Although you would never guess from its appearance, the buffet is situated in the old dining room of the Holland House, one of New York’s grandest hotels when it opened in 1891.

This luxury hotel was known for its aristocratic tone.1 Modeled after the celebrated Lords Holland’s mansion in London, the ten-story building was built of white Indiana limestone in the Italian Renaissance style. Now containing offices, it was once positioned in the most stylish part of Fifth Avenue—the dozen-block stretch of elegant shops and restaurants that catered to the wealthy of the Gilded Age. 

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Corny

Iowa, New York & Connecticut, 
1886-1888


Two corn cobs were walking along, and the first cob noticed that they were being followed by another cob. The first cob whispered to the second, “Don’t look now, but I think we are being followed by a stalker.” This type of corny joke may have made the rounds at the church corn suppers that were popular in the late 1880s.1

Church suppers were commonplace occurrences during the nineteenth century, both as social gatherings and a way for women's aid societies to raise money. Around 1886, church groups across the country began to use corn as a theme for their suppers. The short-lived fad seemingly came out of nowhere—it was not confined to the Corn Belt in the Midwest nor related to the harvest season.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Nearly to the Jumping Off Place

El Paso, 1883


J. T. Stevens, having just arrived in El Paso, Texas from his home in Connecticut, wrote to his parents on October 9, 1883: “I will enclose a bill of fare which I had the first day, that you may see that I am not entirely of this world if I have got nearly to the jumping off place.” Menus were often enclosed in letters, such as the one below, when the writer wanted to reassure the folks back home that he or she was all right.