Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Café Martin

New York City

By the late 1890s, the neighborhood around Madison Square Park was losing some of its luster. After being the center of New York’s social scene for twenty-five years, some of its leading hotels and restaurants began to close, including Delmonico’s which moved there from Union Square in 1876, and now relocated to Fifth Avenue and 44th Street. Despite this notable departure, Madison Square was still a stylish part of town, prompting Jean and Louis Martin to take over Delmonico’s lease on the 26th Street, well-situated between Fifth Avenue and Broadway. The French-born brothers refurbished the old building, giving it the latest flourishes of Art Nouveau design, and renamed it the Café Martin.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Quick & Not-So-Quick Lunch

New York City, 1903

Crowds on Sixth Avenue (1903)
Europeans visiting the United States in the nineteenth century were endlessly fascinated with how quickly Americans ate their meals in public, especially lunch. By the 1890s, there were a number of new ways to feed those in a hurry, such as lunch wagons and cafeterias. However, it was the small restaurants serving the so-called “quick lunch” that most captured their imagination, for there was nothing like it in Europe at the time. In 1892, French writer Paul de Rousiers described the scene at one of these eateries in his travelogue La Vie Américaine:

“Lunch time, the streets fill once more. In New York nobody goes home in the middle of the day. They eat wherever they happen to be: at the office, while working, in clubs, and in cafeterias…In blue-collar restaurants, thousands of people eat standing up, with their hats on, all in a line, like horses in a stable. The food is fresh and appetizing, though, and prices are lower than ours. While lines of men dug into plates brimming with meatballs, others wait to take their place.”