Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Café Martin

New York City

By the end of the nineteenth century, 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 were beginning to close. Most notably, Delmonico’s shuttered its doors and followed society uptown. It had moved there in 1876, after closing its renowned restaurant at Union Square, and it now moved again, this time to Fifth Avenue and 44th Street. Despite their departure, Madison Square was still a stylish part of town, prompting Jean and Louis Martin to take over the lease on Delmonico’s old location on 26th Street, well-situated between Fifth Avenue and Broadway. Naming it the Café Martin, the French-born brothers refurbished the building to give it the look of a Parisian restaurant, complete with the latest flourishes of Art Nouveau design.

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.”