1940s Archive

Along the Boulevards

Originally Published May 1949

Only infrequently, perhaps, as fetching as the names of English taverns over the centuries, the names of the saloons, bars, restaurants, and other eating and drinking premises of the United States might yet provide material for an academic thesis. Boston's gone but not forgotten Bell-in-Hand and still flourishing Thompson's Spa, the Switch Key in Fort Worth, and the Hurry Back, an old-time resort in Salt Lake City, come at once to mind. There is a Happy Landings Bar in Manhattan's Fifty-eighth Street, and traveled folk will at once think of the Golden Pheasant in Dallas, the King of Prussia in, of all places, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, and the Brick Wall in Providence.

Perhaps the most fragrant of all such regional catalogues of tavern and restaurant names derives from San Francisco in the latter decades of the last century, when that golden community was famed throughout the world for its gustatory resources and high living generally. Before this department at the moment is an agreeable volume published by Paul Elder back in 1914, Bohemian San Francisco, Its Restaurants and Their Most Famous Recipes; The Elegant Art of Dining, by Clarence E. Edwords, and its index is a wistful souvenir of the storied past.

There was the Maison Dorée, the Nevada, the Old Louvre, the Tahama House, Three Trees, the Poodle Dog, and, of course, the Pup, the Palace of Art, Peter Job's, the Cobweb Palace, the Iron House, Mia Tanta, Christian Good's, Hang Far Low, the Odeon, and the Mint. There was the Fly Trap, the Buon Gusto, Jule's Leon d'Oro's, the Shell Fish Grotto, the Fior d'Italia, Tortoni's, Captain Cropper's, the Viticultural, and Zinkands. There was Darbee and Immel's oyster bar, Marchand's, Perini's, Gobey's, and the Good Fellows Grotto.

Not every community was so fortunate as San Francisco, either in its imagination or in the variety of its saloons and restaurants, but a fairly good case can be made for the claim that tavern names are part of the great body of Americana, and, as such, worth preserving in some comprehensive record.

Today's little horror story concerns the conduct of what used to be one of New York's greatest luxury hotels. In an attempt by its owner to augment its already superlative profits, he called in an efficiency expert recently graduated from a leading so-called “college of hotel management,” and a conference was called of various department heads. During its course, the purchase of some new bedroom furnishings was brought up, and floor plans of some of the bedrooms were submitted to the vice-president in charge of decorations. That experienced functionary raised an eyebrow.

“But according to this layout, the telephone is located across the room from the bed,” he objected. “I never heard of a telephone that wasn't available to a guest while he was in bed.”

“Aha,” smirked the expert. “That's a little idea of my own. It's like this. The guest gets an early morning call, and if he answers it in bed, he's very apt to go right back to sleep. If he has to get out of bed, shut the window, get across the room, and get a good chilling, he's not half so apt to go back to bed. He gets up, gets on his clothes, and checks the hell out, and there your room is ready for reoccupancy four or five hours before it might otherwise be. Make 'em cold and uncomfortable, and they leave twice as fast.”

And hotelmen wonder what occasions the ever-growing hostility toward hotel management on the part of the public!

All regular diners-out around New York and, doubtless, elsewhere in the gastronomic scene are familiar with the ageless complaint: “Oh, it used to be a wonderful restaurant, but I think it's gone down dreadfully lately.” Such lamentations for the decline of food, service, or clientele may indeed be founded in fact, for almost every restaurant has its ups and downs, or it may simply derive from long association and familiarity with a particular establishment. No matter how high the average level of cuisine may be, a piece of grit in the greens or a bug in the raspberry can suggest to the impressionable that the place is falling off, “but dreadfully, my dear.”

One restaurant that, to the personal, continuous, and long-time observation of this department, has never had any downs at all and shows no least sign of decay is an old favorite, the Baroque, in East Fifty-third Street just cattycornered from the Stork Club. Even during the war, the management of the Baroque, an incomparable team of partners named Frank and Joseph, who are always personally on duty, never seemed to suffer for lack of the best of everything, and the manner in which the premises is conducted has never deviated from that of an ultrasmart, small, conservative French restaurant of the first class.

Baroque seats only about seventy patrons at a time, with a small overflow at the one-man bar down front, but it is run with a flourish and in the grand manner, and its clientele is fairly well limited to port-voiced gentlemen who command two sorts of wine at a minimum and a few professional names who know wonderful food and are important enough to be able to eat in a restaurant not frequented by the entire corps of Broadway paragraphers.

The menu is a reasonable one, perhaps four or five fish courses daily, half a dozen entrees of the day, and half a dozen grillades available to special order, but its resources are not limited to the menu by any means, and any reasonable preferences in the preparation of the available meats, fish, and birds will be accommodated in a repertory that compares favorably with that of the Colony, a restaurant which will provide anything, any time, in any manner.

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