Saturday, January 6, 2024

The America's Cup

New York City,
1895


The most entertaining thing for the average person attending an America’s Cup race is perhaps the food and drink. Once in a while, one of the sailboats comes into view on 
the horizon line, only to disappear again. Between these sporadic sightings, the day-trippers bob up and down on the open sea, wondering what’s for lunch. It was different in the nineteenth century when spectators were allowed so close as to possibly interfere with the action. The most controversial America’s Cup took place in 1895 when the sloop Defender, owned by three members of the New York Yacht Club (NYYC), was pitted against Valkyrie III from the Royal Yacht Squadron. Much has been written about this contest that later descended into acrimony. A menu reveals what was served to eat on one of the observation ships, and sheds light on why onlookers are kept at a distance these days.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Schedler’s High Bridge Hotel

New York City, 
1881 


Schedler’s High Bridge Hotel was located in Washington Heights, the highest and northernmost part of Manhattan. The hotel was so named due its proximity to the bridge that spanned the Harlem River as part of the Croton Aqueduct.1 After the walkway atop High Bridge was completed in 1864, the 
sparsely-populated area became an enjoyable place to take a stroll on a pleasant afternoon or evening. Two menus from Schedler’s in 1881 provide a rare glimpse of the social activity in this upper-class enclave dotted with luxurious mansions and single-family homes. 

Saturday, November 18, 2023

The Menu was the Message

1904-1931 


The advent of the postcard provided the hospitality industry with innovative ways to advertise. One of the unique formats that emerged i
n the early 1900s was the attachment of postcards to menus. This concept was particularly suited to table d’hôtel menus that did not have prices. Once ubiquitous, table d’hôtel menus were still being used at hotels and resorts that operated on the so-called American Plan, meaning room and board were included in the daily rate. Such hostelries traditionally promoted the abundance of their board to attract guests, something the postcard-menu combination was ideally suited to do.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Dining in Prospect Park

Brooklyn, New York
1897 


Brooklyn’s pastoral Prospect Park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the landscape architects who created Central Park and Riverside Park in Manhattan. Opened in 1867, Prospect Park was substantially complete in 1873 when a financial panic halted further development. Some of the originally-envisioned structures, such as a terraced restaurant, were never built. Instead, two of the existing buildings were utilized for food service. The park was restored in the 1890s during the City Beautiful movement, and it was during this period that the park commissioner decided to appoint a new concessionaire. His goal was to make the restaurants more “fashionable” while still maintaining low prices for the general public. The recent discovery of two menus from about 1897 reveal what this plan looked like when put into action.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Music on the Menu

1878-1978




“Music with dinner is an insult both to the cook and the violinist,” observed English writer G. K. Chesterton. Nevertheless, music has become an inescapable part of eating outside the home. While menus almost never reveal what was played in the background of restaurants and hotel dining rooms, they reflect the world of music in a myriad of other ways. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Where the Immigration Inspectors Dined

New York City, 
1904-1905 


The immigration station on Ellis Island reopened in 1900, following a devastating fire three years earlier. In 1902, substantial changes were made to operations, including the posting of “Kindness and Consideration” signs as reminders to unfriendly and disrespectful members of the workforce that included inspectors, interpreters, doctors, nurses, and social workers. Between 1900 and 1918, ten million people entered the United States through Ellis Island. Unlike the nineteenth century, when immigrants mostly arrived from northern and western Europe, the early twentieth century witnessed a surge from
 eastern Europe, czarist Russia, and southern Italy. Menus from employee outings in 1904 and 1905 reflect the ethnic cuisines of the newcomers, which is not to imply that everyone on the staff supported the immigration laws then in force. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Impressions of American Hotels

1883-1898


Max O’Rell was the pen name of Léon Paul Blouet, a well-known French author and journalist in the late nineteenth century. Beginning in the fall of 1887,  O'Rell visited the United States for six months, traveling as far west as Chicago. After a second tour in 1890, he published A Frenchman in America in which he humorously described American manners and customs with acerbity. Chapter IV, titled “Impressions of American Hotels,” is reproduced below with some of the original illustrations and relevant menus from the period.