“Merrie Olde England” in the Streamliner era

A German-American Restaurateur Promotes the English Tavern, 1939

1. General Background

These pages have chronicled off and on the importance, greater in some periods than others, of the English inn or tavern in the American imagination. The Colonial tavern was in the main a duplication of the British original adapted to the new frontier. (If the Dutch bar made any mark in New York or up the Hudson, in time it was effaced by the British takeover of New York).

With political independence and passage of time including arrival of settlers from non-British lands, the cozy English hostelry competed with other forms, alcoholic and non-. There was the German beer hall, notably, but also the saloon, cocktail bar, soda fountain, and coffee shops. Newer forms continually emerged such the beachcomber beer, described in an atmospheric 1940 spread in PM, a newsmagazine-style newspaper in Manhattan.

Despite the competition, up to Prohibition and to some extent after many old ale-houses continued to function, especially in the Northeast. For example, there were The Grapevine in New York, McSorley’s also in New York, and the Bell-in-Hand in Boston, all of which I’ve discussed in earlier posts.

An enhanced form of tavern was the porter-house, chop-house, and finally steak house, or steak and seafood. The English-style bar endured in Keens Steak House, The Old Homestead, Frankie and Johnnie’s, the former Bull & Bear in the now-closed Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Pete’s Tavern, etc., all in New York.

In Ontario from 1934 until ca. 1975 the British pub probably reached its lowest ebb. Post-Prohibition regulation turned the tavern into an unappealing appendage of (mostly) unappealing hotels. Decor was minimal or non-existent: early rec room sums it up. Still, the older associations were sometimes preserved, perhaps in a nicer-than-usual wood paneling scheme, or simply perhaps the name.

The British pub was given a new lease on life in New York, Montreal, Toronto, and other large centres from the 1960s onward. This was reinforced by the Irish pub’s arrival, with no unsettling political implications: to us it was all the “British pub”.

A substantial British and Irish influx to Canada after WW II partly explained this. As well, the classic British pub was showcased to thousands of visitors, millions in total, at international exhibitions and trade fairs between 1939 and 1967; this had a definite influence. The British/Irish pub in Ontario finally replaced to a large extent the old beverage room but still in competition with the cocktail bar (often in a restaurant or hotel), roadhouse bar, and countless less differentiated bars, e.g. the T.G.I.F. or Cheers type.

The craft beer bar took root from the 1980s and has made inroads on the older forms but all still compete for the consumer’s beer and food dollar.

2. The English Tavern Between the Wars

There remain periods in this evolution I haven’t examined, notably 1933-1941 and U.S. Prohibition. Prohibition you say? How could that apply? Well it does because of the speakeasy, the illicit drinking establishment.

Bob Brown’s classic Let There Be Beer!, published in New York in 1932, describes pubby speakeasies, linking matters up from pre-Prohibition times:

Every big city has its distinctive English pubs and chop houses, where ale is served in silver tankards and drawn direct from the wood. Even in prohibition America a great quantity of English beer still seeps in, and Canadian ale is a general favourite with bootleggers and their patrons. Some smart speakeasies are still fitted out in the best public house style of Old London.

Earlier I discussed a charming Tudor hotel built in 1920s Niagara Falls, NY, probably with an eye to post-Prohibition. Home realty developers, before liquor became legal in 1933, designed an “English tavern” basement for the suburban stockbroker belt. See my earlier discussions here, and here, on these matters.

The English tavern resurged after Repeal in 1933 due to this historical background. The revival was assisted by the tavern’s relatively benign image in America, in contrast say to the more purely American but also more clearly distrusted saloon. (And the saloon, in its pre-1920 form, never returned).

And so Repeal spawned many new or refurbished English taverns in New York and other cities. As one example of many, in 1934 The Wave, a newspaper in Rockaway Beach, NY, carried an impressive advertisement for the Town Tavern. It took the format of a personal message from the promoter:

I take this opportunity to explain briefly the character of the Town Tavern soon to be opened in the Hotel Rogers, on the Boulevard at Beach 116th Street.

Its exterior will be the reproduction of a charming Old English Tavern with its colorful roof, peaked gables and little stained glass windows, the whole bathed in the mellow glow of wrought iron lanterns hanging from the eaves overhead. So realistic will be this reproduction that one will almost expect to see the genial landlord standing in the doorway awaiting the arrival of the stage-coach.

Inside, the impression of an Old English tavern will still prevail. The walls will be panelled in walnut and around the entire room will run a wide shelf beautified by interesting objects of art. On the walls above this shelf will hang paintings picturing in brilliant colors the scenes for which Merrie Olde England was famous. From the ceiling will hang great ornamental iron lanterns shedding their soft light on the tables and chairs below—-large, roomy tables covered with snowy white cloths with borders of green and gold, and comfortable chairs with colorful slip-covers snugly fitted over their backs. In keeping with this charming setting, the table service will all be new, the dishes in chaste white with ornamental borders and the silver in tasteful design. In short, the whole atmosphere of the dining room will be one of restful refinement—a place in which to dine—and wine if you wish—-leisurely and In comfort.

And the quality of the foods and beverages served at the Town Tavern will be in keeping with the character of the surroundings—the best foods that the markets provide and the choicest of wines and liquors—such foods and drinks as combine to produce the kind of a meal that one lingers over lovingly and looks back upon with fond recollection.

Similar settings, pre- and during Prohibition, are eulogised by Bob Brown in his book.

Charmingly, the Town Tavern still exists, now called Rogers Irish Pub. A July 27, 2017 story in the Rockaway Times illuminates the history including via the image below.


English strap work and thatched-style roofing way out in Rockaway Beach in 1934 … now that’s cool, or at any time.

3. An Eclectic Food Culture Emerges

As the Depression continued, an urban elite encouraged the revival of gastronomic tradition in general. I canvassed earlier the many food and wine clubs formed, new influential restaurant columns such as G. Selmer Fougner’s, Consumer Reports’ pioneering alcohol beverage ratings, and the world cuisines on display at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. All gave succour and encouragement to budding, post-Prohibition epicures, the foodies of their time.

And so by the late 1930s a decided culinary diversity characterized the urban hotel and restaurant scene, at least in New York. Fougner could write (1939) of a “week in the life”:

The week’s activities further included the Waldorf-Astoria dinner, previously rehearsed and described in this column, of the Committee of One Hundred of Miami Beach; a happy luncheon in the shadows of the snow-white vats of the Ruppert Brewery, prior to attending the first game of the World Series at the Yankee Stadium; a Society of Restaurateurs dinner at the Belgian Pavilion at the fair [the 1939 New York’s World Fair]; the opening of August Janssen’s new Boar’s Head restaurant in Lexington Avenue; a Viennese “packhuhn” at Park Avenue’s Restaurant Crillon, with one of Otto J. Baumgarten’s few remaining bottles of delightful Austrian wine, reminiscent of the gayety and sparkle which Vienna once knew, and finally a feast of our own household’s special treatment of a five-pound  two-and-one-half-inch flatbone sirloin, with a generous helping of Yvonne’s French-fried potatoes, done as no one else knows how, golden brown and crisp, yet tender … Yes the season is on.

4. War Clouds Bring a new English Tavern to New York

Was there room for the British tavern/chophouse in this newly eclectic food culture, other than a Keens or other “old reliable” as a curio of the past? Yes there was, as you see above, August Janssen, a pioneer of German ethnic cuisine in New York, created in 1939 a new English restaurant in town. Janssen, of all people one might think, who had founded in 1898 the famous Hofbrau-Haus in New York and satellite restaurants in and outside NYC, became a proponent of English tavern cuisine.

At 72 he was still active and late in his career formed the idea to create a temple of English food and drink, called the Boar’s Head. Now, why would a (long-naturalized) German immigrant think to do that, with war afoot in Europe? Well, he was also an excellent businessman. He knew his Hofbrau-Haus had survived WW I, had survived Prohibition, but would it survive the Nazi era and America’s inevitable entry (it came two years later) in another war? Why not hedge your bets, cover both ends so to speak?

I mean this in culinary terms to be sure, not political/cultural. He had to know that renewed anti-German feeling, increased by the brutalities and atrocities of the Nazi regime, might spell the end of his first restaurant (it did not, in the result).

The warmth of feeling for the English tavern reached a zenith in a 1939 column by New York journalist Malcolm Johnson. Johnson, who like Fougner wrote on food for the New York Sun, described Janssen’s new venture and thinking. As quoted, Janssen spoke in dulcet, “society” language but the meaning between the lines was unmistakable, in our view.

“For those of us who are sympathetic with the ample English appetite … I am trying to make the European war less serious for transatlantic travelers by duplicating at the Boars Head just about everything for which they once made pilgrimages to Simpson’s, the Cheshire Cheese or any of those delightful little inns down in the country, where you ate by a roaring fireplace under rafters 500 years old and besides sporting prints and gleaming pewter.”

Janssen died later in 1939 and could not superintend his new creation, but the family carried on both businesses. A Boar’s Head menu survives in the NYPL menu archive from November 1945. It gives a good idea how Janssen sought to emulate the Simpson’s and Cheshire Cheese menus, venerated as he noted by prewar American travellers to London and “the country”.

A not dissimilar approach is shown by this menu of the same year from Frankie and Johnnie. It is noteworthy that both these establishments were founded after Repeal (Frankie and Johnnie had roots in a 20s speakeasy). Neither, in other words, was simply a survival of a 19th century Manhattan imitation of the London chop house as, say, Keens Chophouse was (and is).

For the beers, one may note on these menus Bass Ale, so presumably a post-V-E Day importation unless pre-war stock. Guinness Stout would be ditto. Black Horse Ale on the Boar’s Head menu almost certainly was from Dawes Brewery in Montreal, and both menus featured good American ales and lagers.

And so the robust Anglo-Saxon food and drink tradition, whose continuation was so carefully noted by observers from the 19th century onwards, was given new life by a German-American restaurateur in 1939.

Unlike Fougner who was more the harried chronicler, Johnson was an accomplished writer, a stylist. He proved it later by authoring, in the late 1940s, a multi-part exposé, “Crime on the Waterfront”, which inspired the film On The Waterfront.

These lines from Johnson’s report on the Boar’s Head give the flavour, but read the piece in full.

With this objective in mind, Mr. Janssen has done everything he could, in decor, cuisine and service, to provide a nostalgic spot for lovers of the old-fashioned English inn. Leighton Budd, whose drawings appeared in Punch for many years and who has been associated with Mr. Janssen for ages, has been in charge of the “restoration” of the Boars Head and has painted a four-panel mural depicting a boar hunt and feast in the legendary day of Robin Hood.

Johnson goes on to lyricize Roy Leighton Budd’s wood beams “that might have come over the Channel from Caen” (!), “flints and shepherds’ crooks”, and all the “embellishments” that created wide-screen romance in the American imagination. Oh, he did not forget the “British red” chosen for the waiters’ uniforms.

5. Takeaway

The next time you gaze at a Duke or Royal this or that pub in Toronto, or the equivalent in 200 other cities in North America, consider it is not new, not even in the last generation. It is a contemporary expression of a very old idea, or sentiment, in our folk memory.

Note re images: The first image above was drawn from Derek Flack’s (excellent, recommended) 2017 blogpost, “The Lost Taverns and Bars of Toronto”, see here. The second image was sourced from the news article of the same year identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property in the images belongs solely to the lawful owner(s), as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

Some Beer Notes, Spring 2019

Some notes on recent beers tasted.

Muddy York’s MY Bock is a 7% maibock or heller style, so not the dark brown, cakey Doppel Bock associated with colder seasons. Maibock is lighter in colour and taste, a pale-leaning tawny. This was the style of our large brewers’ bocks 30 years ago, e.g., Super Bock from Labatt. Think slightly sweet, relatively mild, hop-spicy from a noble hop addition.

My Bock is a better beer than those but reminds me still of them, possibly due to common use of Canadian malt(s). There is a certain “taste” common to both, in other words.

MY Bock is perfect with German food, and most food for that matter, due to its strength yet light body.

Another winner is good old Lug Tread, the lagered ale from Beau in eastern Ontario. This beer has definitely improved in recent years. It occasionally had “green” tastes (in our estimation) but now drinks clean yet rich and tasty for the style offered. It is best consumed cold, and really is a craft version of Canadian sparkling ale, the filtered, carbonated ale type that replaced naturally-conditioned, stronger, and more hopped beers after World War I.

Side Launch’s Midnight Lager, the new name for its Dark Lager, is also at a peak of quality. In the past I thought it had a tendency to over-dryness but the last samples showed a richer taste more attuned to the Munich origins of Dunkel Bier.

I’ve tried Fat Tire Amber Ale, licensed to Toronto’s Steam Whistle by a well-known Colorado craft brewery, a few times now to ensure a fair trial. I find it very light-tasting, was the American original always like that? I only had it a couple of times and can’t really remember.

I’m sure the producers know the market they want to attract, ditto for Steam Whistle’s Von Bugle from its Etobicoke plant, so fair enough for them. For me though, these beers are bland, not enough happening. It’s particularly unfortunate for Von Bugle whose inherent taste is excellent, it just needs more of it.

I revisited 1870 Amsterdam AK Bitter, our collaboration with Amsterdam Brewery in Toronto earlier this year, and it tastes fresh as a daisy at about three months from canning. The taste is seemingly deeper than earlier. Even though the beer is roughly filtered, some development must go on in the cans I think. Of course too IPA, of which this beer is broadly an example, was “built to last”, so it all ties together really.

Henninger lager, brewed still in its historic Frankfurt home but by former competitor Binding, impressed with its toasty malt and spicy hop flavours. It did remind me of Henninger when brewed in Ontario under license in the 1980s-90s, more than the Henninger in the black can imported by The Beer Store in recent years.

The current can has a new white design, and is being sold at LCBO. I don’t know if the formulation changed or the freshness of the stock explains it, but the beer seems better now, more craft-like and richer.

Henninger used to be available here in pilsener and export (Dortmund) variations, the current label simply states “lager”. I’d guess it is export-style due to the well-defined malt quality.

Henninger, with other influences I’ve been discussing in recent weeks, is a key part of Ontario craft pre-history. That it is just “another import” vying for consumer favour is kind of ironical in historical terms considering that Henninger carved the path many later followed here of all malt, European-style lager.

Try the beer, Ontario beer fans, not only is it history in a glass, it’s a rock solid brew, more substantial than many German names of renown.

Finally, Nickle Brook’s Winey Bastard, an Imperial Stout aged in Ontario red wine casks, stored at least 6 months since purchase, wowed diners who tried it last night at a catered dinner that was BYOB. It was perfect with an Italian, steak-based meal with its edgy yet approachable rich palate. Certainly one iteration of the old stock porters of the 18th and 19th centuries.

 

 

 

 

The Ontario Beverage Room

With new liquor control laws in 1934, Ontario introduced or at least enshrined as a cultural touchstone the hotel beverage room. Since 1927, sale of liquor and beer through government stores and authorized beer warehouses (forerunner of today’s Brewers’ Retail aka The Beer Store) was lawful, but public drinking of regular strength beer in the province did not resume until the beverage room system was authorized.

In principle this meant a tavern had to be part of a hotel and lobby which also had a separate dining room. Licensing of clubs, soldiers’ messes, trains, and steamships (the Great Lakes) completed the system. Only beer and wine was supplied, no stand-alone cocktail bars were permitted until the end of the 1940s, the best remembered is the Silver Rail on Yonge Street. We visited it a number of times before its demise about 15 years ago, but in retrospect wish we had gone more often. Think mirrored walls, shiny banquette seating, and the famous long bar.

In contrast, as mandated by Mitch Hepburn’s 1934 government, the hotel beverage rooms were clinical in nature, packed with round tables and chairs, shielded from street view, separated into men only and ladies and escorts sections. There was no standing at the bar, drinks were to be consumed sitting only and from 1946, only one beer could be ordered at a time (served in small measures, no English or even American pints then).

In the 1930s and ’40s journalism regularly investigated the new beverage rooms. Maclean’s magazine ran major features in 1934 and 1945. You may read here Morley Murray’s crisp report of December 1, 1945, notable for its scope and “just the facts ma’am” style, as much of North American journalism then.

In August 1946 Lex Schrag authored three pieces in Toronto’s The Globe and Mail, each successively on the Customer, the Hotelman, and the Law. Sadly he omitted the Beer, but as Murray’s piece shows too, this was the last of the many things to think about when considering the beverage room of Ontario. Schrag did advert briefly to beer, in the sense that with rationing still in force it was often too green from lack of age. Short of that, no discussion was allowed to the type of beer consumed: colour, style, temperature, taste characteristics, none of it mattered.

Murray’s article did not discuss the beer at all, it is more a social and economic analysis of the hotel beverage system without ignoring its nemesis, the Ontario Temperance Federation.

Schrag counterpointed to the beverage room the British pub heritage with its more peaceful, organic approach to community alcohol consumption. In Ontario, exacerbated by rationing shortages but also (wrote Schrag) historical guilt about drinking descended from early Scots and Ulster settlers, beer was consumed mechanically and furtively, sometimes causing the kinds of drunken scenes and rows described by Murray.

It is against this background that the exhibition of a functioning English pub of charming decor at the 1949 Canadian International Trade Fair must be considered, as its 1969 follow-up at British Week in Canada, both mentioned in my recent postings.

Only by the 1970s did rules relax in Ontario to permit stand-up drinking and a pub without benefit of guest accommodations. The English pub phenomenon that burgeoned here from the 1970s, initially in the largest urban centres, was an outgrowth of the new era. These English and Irish pubs still flourish albeit often overlooked by craft beer commentators.

Yet, there are still pubs in Toronto that reflect their hotel beverage room roots. I may visit one soon to report.

The advertisement above is from November 1957, in Maclean‘s again, and reflects the succeeding era. The elegant home setting is notable. As the beverage room of the ’50s and ’60s still largely retained its anodyne, 1934 form brewers used home and recreational backdrops, with the most elegant suiting their most aspirational brands.

Note, too, how the drumbeat of “light” is emphasized, later crowned by the technological achievement (?) of light beer, still after all a major force in national beer sales.

Note re images: The first image above was drawn from Maclean’s archives, here. The second was drawn from sootoday.com, here. All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to their lawful owners, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

Roistering in Toronto the Good (?), 1949

Strange Brew, Look What’s Inside of you

In my last post I described beers served at a temporary English pub, the Lion and the Unicorn, built in October 1969 for “British Week in Canada”, a trade and cultural event.

I mentioned the beers served, bottled beers from the renowned houses Bass, Whitbread, McEwan’s, Mackeson, with three English ciders to boot.

Further investigation shows that another trade event in Toronto featured another English pub – 18 years earlier. 1949 is very early for such a thing in Toronto, and I’m fain to call it the first Canadian showcase of the 20th century British pub.

Certainly, to sample English beer in a “British” pub in Canada in 1949 was a novel experience, barring ex-military who knew pubs in Britain during the war. The pub was an exhibit of a British brewery participating in the Canadian International Trade Fair (CITF), which ran annually from 1948 to the late 1950s (at least).

The CITF was held at Exhibition Grounds in Toronto, the city-owned building and park complex where the Canadian National Exhibition, or “Ex”, is held annually in August. The CITF was an off-season event, held in the spring.

The 1949 edition featured an astonishing “eight-booth” exhibit by Hope & Anchor Breweries of Sheffield, an ambitious regional brewer that saw its future in international expansion. Brian Glover tells Hope & Anchor’s story in his 2009 The Lost Beers and Breweries of Britain, see here. He states Hope & Anchor toured North American business exhibitions in this period to promote its beer for this market.

It had two beers in mind in particular, oyster stout and a honey-based ale, which you see pictured in the 1950s ad above. Both beers were mentioned in Toronto press stories on the replica pub, called Rose and Crown Inn.

A May 25, 1949 Globe and Mail story stated the pub was part of a 15-ton, 80-foot long exhibit, all built in England and shipped here for the fair. It comprised also a Manx cottage with cauldron and spinning wheel, English scenes, and view of Windsor castle. At the pub you could play darts and shove ha-penny. Other than noting oyster stout and honey-based ale were “out of the ordinary” the Globe saw no exotica in the beers sold, or if it did held its counsel out of deference to the British participants.

The New Zealand oyster concentrate discussed by Brian Glover in the history of oyster stout is mentioned by the Globe as well. It’s an ostensibly weird element in those distant pre-craft times, but again was taken in stride, including evidently by the fair-goers. On June 10, 1949 the Globe reported that beer supplies at the Rose and Crown ran out and Hope & Anchor had to fly more in. It noted the bar was one of six on site, another featured Czech beer, probably Pilsner Urquell, which was so popular supplies had to be “rationed”.

A June 6, 1949 story (same paper) is an amusing riff on fair visitors wanting to visit the pub. Interviewing staff at the information counter, the writer relates the queries of John Q public rapid-fire and deadpan style, almost like Monty Python. A harried staffer signalled the takeaway for the reader:

Four out of every five people have wanted to know where that pub is. It is about the only thing we have to know.

Stout and porter by this time had practically died out in Canada, yet oyster stout was lapped up with avidity at the fair, as rich Czech lager. Hope & Anchor marketed its oyster stout across North America. Glover reports it enjoyed c.1952 a cult status in California, which is interesting considering where the roots of modern craft brewing started.

Here you see a 1954 ad in the Times-Union of Albany, NY for over 30 imported beers. Manx oyster stout and the aforesaid mead ale of Hope & Anchor are included. This ad is another example of the early interest in (especially) bottled imported beers. This history played a definite role in the later evolution of craft beer.

On May 25, 1949 the Globe reports that the success of the Rose and Crown here got Hope & Anchor thinking to set up a brewery in Canada to make oyster stout with Canadian oysters, and honey ale with Canadian honey. Brig. Basil Hopkins led the trade mission for Hope & Anchor and announced the hopeful plan to the journalist.

The landscape of Canadian brewing might have changed considerably had it happened and succeeded, and if the Rose and Crown Inn moved to the business centre to feature good beer. Maybe by the 1960s a vibrant craft industry would have emerged, Henninger of Frankfurt would have been received with open arms (vs. the later 10 years of indifferent success), and we would date modern beer writing to the early 1960s, or even 1950s, instead of the mid-1970s.

Toronto showed, back in the supposed days of early post-war rectitude, that it could party with the best of them – with discrimination. It showed it again in 1969 when 50,000 bottles of characterful British beer sold out in 10 days at British Week in Canada.

But a regionally-based brewing system with complex regulation, steady consolidation and cost-cutting, and probably too the Korean War (1950-1953), checked a potential beer revival. A consolation is it all did happen, finally, starting from about 1985.

Coda #1

The Globe reported on June 7, 1950 that the pub was still on the fairgrounds, now surplus to requirements and seeking a buyer. According to this account, the pub was a replica of the bar at the Barrel Inn, Derbyshire, a storied English hostelry. It came complete with crossed battle-axes over mantle, pewter candlestick holders, oaken chairs and bar, and much else – everything except, said the writer, an Ontario Liquor Control Board license…

The brewery thought a well-heeled Canadian might like it for a basement bar or “rumpus room”. What happened to it, we wonder… Maybe it remains in the nether regions of a Rosedale or Forest Hill mansion. For all I know it could be 1000 yards from where I write (outside the precincts of either district, I might add).

Coda #2

The full story of oyster stout is beyond our scope here, but we summarize below our view of the history.

  1. 1700s-early 1800s, practice spreads of adding crushed oyster shells to vats of porter to head off acidity. The shells’ carbonate content neutralizes acetic acid. Little or no fishy taste is imparted.
  2. Due to this connection of the oyster to stout, people think it natural for porter to be consumed with oysters, so the pairing emerges about the same period. In other words, we don’t see that oyster and stout are a natural gastronomic combination.
  3. 1930s in New Zealand, an idea emerges to add an oyster concentrate to porter or stout, hence providing the pairing in one go. This has nothing to do with oyster shells being used to control sourness in beer. As the pairing of beer with oyster was long a custom by then, adding the concentrate was essentially a food processing development.
  4. The concentrate idea, as chronicled by Glover and the late, game-changing Michael Jackson, migrates to Britain by 1938-1939. Hammerton in London, Young’s in Portsmouth, and other brewers take it up. The war interferes.
  5. Sheffield’s Hope & Anchor, via its Castletown unit on Isle of Man purchased 1947, releases oyster stout 1948. Distribution extended to in North America, 1950s.
  6. Michael Jackson described oyster stout, wreathing his trademark romantic spell, see e.g., (1988) The New World Guide to Beer, (1993) Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion (Glover appears to rely on the latter in part), and this 1995 article on the still-extant Jackson website.
  7. Oyster stout becomes a staple U.S. craft offering, and re-establishes in Britain via that channel and Jackson. E.g., Marston of Burton issues one, sans addition of bivalve.*
  8. Oyster stout again becomes known in Toronto, via modern craft beer. In the Globe and Mail on August 14, 1999 Steve Beaumont described an early collaboration between Durham Brewing Co. and Rodney’s Oyster Bar for an oyster stout featured at a local oyster festival.
  9. The 1999 Rodney’s Oyster Stout came 50 years after the (presumed) first appearance of oyster stout in Ontario.
  10. Today numerous Ontario brewers offer an oyster stout off and on. Producers have included the Perth, Durham, Amsterdam, and Barley Days Breweries.

Note re images: the first image above was sourced from an eBay listing, here. The second was sourced from the archived news story of Fulton Newspapers, linked in the text. The third was sourced from a free page viewing of newspapers.com, from a July 5, 1950 advertisement in the Daily Gleaner, Jamaica, see here. All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

…………………………….

*The idea here, and other oyster porter or stout that does not contain oyster, is that the beer is meant as particularly suitable to accompany a plate of oysters, so fair enough. After all too, the beer taste is the main thing and even where oyster is used, one doesn’t want a marked taste of Neptune in the beer. A good oyster stout was never fishy, it seems.

 

 

 

 

The 1970s Carpenter’s Arms: an Anglo-Canadian Partnership

The lore and mystique of the British – although I think more properly English – pub are famously of world-wide scope. I’ve examined aspects in the United States and Canada, as well as in Britain in regard to the wartime pub and evolution of the pub image in British society.

I mentioned on Twitter today that a replica of an English pub was built for the 10-day British Week in Toronto festival held in October 1967. A trade and cultural showcase, it was of sufficient importance that Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson travelled from Ottawa to open the fair with British and other dignitaries, not to mention two Guards regiments piping music. Double-deck Leyland Titans, some marked Bristol City Line, were shipped in their vermilion glory to complete the picture (with much else).

Stories report Lester B. arrived at what is now, appropriately, Pearson Airport at 11:00 a.m. He was ferried by car on the Queen Elizabeth Way for the start of opening ceremonies at 12:00 p.m. on Toronto City Hall plaza. It tells you something about the era that under one hour was allowed for the car trip. That would be doable today if you landed, say, at 2:00 a.m.

The British and Irish pub phenomenon commenced in the city a few years later, surely influenced by this signal attraction that offered Bass ale, Whitbread Brewmaster, Mackeson Stout, McEwan’s Strong Ale and I.P.A., and three English ciders (Globe and Mail, October 14, 1967).

The pub, named The Lion and the Unicorn, sold 50,000 bottles of British beer during the fest (Globe and Mail, October 21, 1967). Pretty good eh? We know how to drink beer in Canada. The British didn’t need to teach us about that – well maybe long ago.

I am not sure if Estelle Silverman ever read about The Lion and the Unicorn at Exhibition Place during that year, or perhaps even visited it. But one way or another, this Kingston, Ontario native, who by 1969 had worked for 10 years in a Canadian law office, got a hankering to run a pub in London. An immediate inspiration was a visit she made to London in that same year of 1967.

And she achieved her dream, in partnership with a Briton called Jean Corbett, a descendant of the famous boxing clan.

The pub was notorious in the mid-1960s for being a fief of the Kray Twins. According to a December 5, 1967 report in the Toronto Globe and Mail by Irvin Lutsky, in 1969 Silverman and Corbett acquired rights to the pub from Truman, the venerable east London brewer.

They ran an exemplary business by all accounts. Silverman’s father had owned a delicatessen in Kingston, the family was part of the small Jewish community in Kingston then. Running a pub perhaps came more easily to Silverman due to this background. Jean’s prize-fighter father Harry had run a pub in London, so she knew the business that way.

Lutsky reports the juke box was well stocked and fairly priced. A later story in the Toronto Star (July 8, 1978), also by Lutsky, reported that Anne Murray’s Snowbird echoed through the pub, a nod by Ms. Silverman to her native land.

The landladies took no guff from untoward patrons, while any real bother was avoided by their diplomacy, “a bit of the verbal” as Lutsky reported. It was hard work to be sure – running any good pub is – but the ladies obtained commensurate rewards from their dedication and first-rate hospitality.

They ran the pub for at least nine years, but the trail ran cold for me after Lutsky’s second article. I offer the story as an inspiring example of Anglo-Canadian cooperation in the service of the great institution, the English pub. Certainly if either woman is still living her memories would be of great interest.

The Carpenter’s Arms is now far removed from the raffish Kray years, and goes from strength to strength at the same location on Cheshire Street, see the website, here. A stylish food and drinks menu is offered in a setting both contemporary and traditional. No doubt the Silverman-Corbett tenure helped it along to the present status as a prestige pub of East London. Lutsky, for example, recounts how champagne would be opened on special occasions, so the path to gentrification seemed set by the 1970s.

The proprietors explained that a special occasion was a client’s willingness to pay a “fiver” – before the cork was pulled mind. Wise policy, then and perhaps still.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the pub’s website linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable, and is used here for historical and educational purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

Herr Chevalier Visits Canada

The Henninger beer brand is still sold in Ontario, at the Beer Store, and has a typical German Helles taste. Sales can’t be very high as it is just one of hundreds of imported beers here, but its quiet presence on the shelves hides a much longer history in Ontario, via licensed arrangements.

In 1972 the Frankfurt brewery – now demolished with production elsewhere in Germany, I think Dortmund – granted a license to a local venture in Hamilton, ON headed by Edward (Ted) Dunal, a former Carling sales executive. It was financed in part by an Ontario public offering of shares and debentures. In effect, this was a joint venture of Frankfurt’s Henninger-Brau and local interests.

The brewery was the old Peller, Brading/Carling plant that now in part houses Collective Arts craft brewery in Hamilton. It was started up again by Dunal after a dozen years of use for harbour warehousing.

As numerous Canadian beer histories have chronicled, Henninger was brewed here from 1972 to 1981 when Amstel of Holland bought the brewery. Amstel continued to make the beer (two brands, Export and Meister Pils) along with a Canadianised Amstel and other brands. Amstel brewed here until 1991 when it gave up on its Canadian investment; the brewery was subsequently sold to Bill Sharpe’s Lakeport Brewing and another storied history followed, outside our scope here.

Finally, the pioneering Brick Brewery in Waterloo, ON, now Waterloo Brewery, picked up the Henninger brands. I think by 1997 all production of the Henninger had ceased. Still, it had a run of almost 25 years in Canada, spanning the pre- and post-microbrewery eras.

Under Brick the beers were restored to German Pure Beer Law requirements. During the Amstel period, as related in a 1991 Toronto Star news story (I can’t link it due to paywall), the Henninger beers were not all-malt, but they were when Ted Dunal directed brewing with Henninger, 1972-1981.

The last beer I brewed in collaboration with Toronto’s Amsterdam Brewery, a recreation of an 1870 English pale ale recipe, used Chevalier malt, which existed in 1870, to lend a heritage touch.

What does that have to do with the Henninger lager story in Ontario? Ostensibly nothing, but there is a link of a kind. In 1975, a series of ads in the Toronto Star advertised the use by Henninger in Hamilton of Chevalier. From a July 11, 1975 issue of the Toronto Star:

… it’s [i.e., the Meister Pils] made here in Canada in our small independent brewery in a particular way from very particular ingredients. We use only two row Chevalier barley….

But most important , we use the same yeast that we use in Germany. Not similar yeast, the same yeast. We actually jet it over from our Frankfurt brewery.

Chevalier barley traditionally was associated with English ale brewing and had largely disappeared in maltings by the 1930s. It was revived about 10 years ago from a few seeds stored in a barley seed bank. I refer to the story and much else in regard to Chevalier in an earlier blogpost, see here.

Ron Pattinson set out characteristics of typical 1970s German malting barleys in a blogpost of 2015, see here, but none is called “Chevalier”.

What explains this use of Chevalier malt in 1970s Canadian Henninger? It seems this was German malt as Henninger’s ads in the 1970s Toronto press stress the use of imported ingredients. Indeed a September 9, 1980 story in the Toronto Star on a German trade fair here stated:

Henninger in Canada is made with strict quality control to produce an identical product to that sold in Germany. In fact, hops, malt and yeast are all imported from there to assure consistent taste with the product brewed in Frankfurt.

The many Henninger ads in the Toronto Star in the 1970s insist on the same taste as the German original, e.g., as shown by blind taste tests using the German and Canadian Henningers, but technical details were sparse. The most specific was for the German yeast, as seen above. Still, some ads stated plainly, “We even import malt from Germany”.

Perhaps this did not mean 100% of the malt was German-sourced, but only that enough German malt was blended with some Canadian or other malt – the Chevalier? – to get the desired profile. Or, perhaps the 1970s Frankfurt brewery used a malt it called Chevalier and sent it to Canada, the ads, taken together, seem to state that.

Around 1900 as I documented in my earlier blogpost on Chevalier, the term was used loosely by British maltsters to include some European two-row barley that originated with the Chevalier seed. Danish Chevalier was apparently of this type, and Chilean. But some imported two-row barley was called Chevalier which may have originated with other types, perhaps even Hanna Moravian malt, ancestor genetically to many fine Central European malting barleys.

But the fact remains that a malt under trade description of Chevalier was used not long before the modern craft revival, a Victorian survival in the glam era.

Now as to taste: I am not sure I ever tasted the 1973-1981 all-malt Henninger. I may have in Montreal if I bought the beer in Prescott, ON or Ottawa before moving to Toronto in 1983. I think I must have, but don’t have a clear recollection.

I did buy the beer regularly in Toronto under Amstel and Brick. I recall the taste being “strong”, that grassy Helles taste with possible dimethyl sulphide (DMS) influence. C.1980 North American beer writers, Jim Robertson, say, or Michael Weiner, gave it top marks.

One can see that all the elements were in place for a mid-1970s beer revival in Canada. Henninger then was all-malt, made in a small plant with substantial local ownership, indeed “independent”, now the leitmotif of international craft brewing. The brewery even made a Henninger alcohol-free beer, under a process licensed from Birell in Switzerland. What is more of the moment than N.A. beer?

Yet Henninger never took more than a piece of a very small market. Something like 97% of the 1970s Ontario beer market was shared by the Big Three then: Molson, Labatt, Carling-O’Keefe. For the taste Henninger offered, Ontario consumers did not show enough interest, not in numbers big enough. Had Henninger grabbed 20% of the market, maybe craft breweries a la Anchor Brewing in San Francisco would have started up by 1975. In the event something similar only started 10 years later.

I think the taste of the locally-made Henninger wasn’t right for this market, even an incipient premium (or connoisseur) market. Not because it was different from the German Henninger: by credible evidence it was the same or virtually so, but the signature taste was too different. Had it been German Wurzburger, say, that was brewed in Hamilton it might have done much better, I think. Amstel, seeing what happened to Henninger, modified its recipe* for the Canadian market, yet that too never appealed in large-enough numbers.

Was Creemore Lager in objective terms a better beer than either of these? I don’t think so, but it sold enough to be successful for many years until being purchased by Molson-Coors. Maybe it was the name and advertising that made the difference, it’s hard to say. I don’t think it was price as Creemore was premium-priced. So was 1970s Henninger but only by a few pennies per bottle more, as its ads pointed out.

Note re image: the Henninger label shown above was sourced from the Beer Store listing linked in the text. All intellectual property in the image belongs solely to its lawful owner. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

…………………

*I meant for Amstel Bier, but in effect this applied to Henninger as well when Amstel brewed it in Hamilton. Also, in a Twitter exchange today with a Frankfurt-resident beer expert, he told me a German maltster is again malting Chevalier barley (also spelled Chevallier), so this is further evidence IMO that likely Henninger was using Chevalier malt in the 1970s.

Marian Engel’s Early Beer Essay

The Great Canadian Beer Book, authored by Gerald Donaldson and Gerald Lampert, was published in 1975 by McLelland and Stewart, a premier Canadian publisher then and now. It’s a unit today of Random House/Bertlesmann. Lampert is long-deceased, while Donaldson later carved an impressive career in auto racing journalism and biography and is still active.

Lawrence Sherk, Canada’s leading collector of breweriana, contributed a chapter. Larry as he is known to the Ontario brewing community is still very much with us, I met him only a few months ago. In this and other ways, the book, while written 44 years ago, seems quite contemporary.

Despite its helter-skelter, “scrapbook” design popular in the 1970s the book is chock full of information on every level: technical, historical, breweriana as noted, culinary, photographic, literary, and more. True, there is a jocular, semi-derisive tone characteristic of beer writing then, but an underlying respect for beer and its traditions comes through. Once again, we see our modern craft beer culture is a development of something very old – not a new departure as many think who don’t plumb the past.

There is an interesting timeline on early Labatt history and the origins of its now defunct I.P.A. There is a lot on early Oland, Carling, and O’Keefe family history. There is a section with well-drawn beer and food recipes. There is a formula for coffee beer, years before craft brewing thought of the idea. The Calgary Red-Eye, the old Brunswick Tavern in Toronto, the King Cole Room (jazz), Henninger Brewery in Hamilton (an all-malt craft progenitor), singer Stompin’ Tom Connors and his ode to workers of Inco, are all there and, well, lots more. Get the book and see.

A number of Canadian authors and artists contributed on beer including famed poet Al Purdy, David Helwig, and Marian Engel. Engel (1933-1985) was a Toronto-born novelist, book reviewer, critic, and early feminist writer. Engel was her married name, her own surname was Passmore but she went professionally by Marian Engel.

Engel’s career is beyond my scope here but information is easily available. She won high honours including a Governor-General’s Award and was a member of the Order of Canada. At times she was controversial, but her place in Canadian literary history is secure.

An annual Canadian literary award of $25,000 is made to deserving authors in mid-career, the award is titled in her name jointly with the late author Timothy Findley. Margaret Atwood was one of the first writers to endow the award.

Engel contributed 1000 words on beer to the Donaldson-Lampert book. She describes growing up in a Temperance family, finally acceding at 21 to half a draft, initially, to make it easier to date boyfriends. She toured German taverns in Ontario’s Mennonite country, including in Neustadt – plates of pigs’ tails and “lots of beer” – and drank beer at Paddy Greene’s in Hamilton, in Manitoulin, and Montreal. She taught for a while at a girls’ school in Montreal and on Saturdays the games mistress drank her “way under the table”, “quarts of Molson”.

After some graduate work she landed a job in Missoula, Montana, probably at the university there, finally graduating with an M.A. in literature from McGill University in Montreal.

In Montana, she mentions different bars – the Oxford, the Chicken Inn among others, but only one beer: “in plaid cans” which she drank on tap with pizza. “Schooners of Scotchguard” she called it. She evidently enjoyed the beer but couldn’t recall the brand 20 years later – however it is Highlander beer, from a local brewery that closed in 1964.

The American beer writer and editor Kate Bernot told me on Twitter that the Highlander name has been restored, so I looked it up. Indeed, a brewpub not connected to the original brewery brews numerous brands under that name including a pilsner that may be close to the original “Scotchguard”.

That beer was never a Scotch ale, and I think originally Highlander simply meant a Montana hill resident, not a type of beer. But in time the old brewery used Scottish iconography to help sell the lager and this is remembered in some of the current branding.

It turns out Scotch ales are quite popular today in Montana, and I think the reason, ultimately, is due to “Scotchguard”. These things adhere in the folk memory and manifest sometimes decades later in ways otherwise hard to explain. Bernot told me of an early craft brand as well, Cold Smoke, that had a role in the process.

In her essay, Engel explained that on an overseas stint in France and Britain, so this was after Missoula, French beer was “bad” but English bitter warmed her “cold heart” – she meant it stopped the shivers from the damp. No less than Louis MacNeice, the British poet and playwright, would buy her a pint at the George while waiting for her husband after work, a “long lean drink of water”, she called MacNeice. “You can’t go higher”, she said, and I believe it. At the time a woman would not easily buy a pint on her own in a pub; MacNeice saw her dilemma and helped the Canadian out, perhaps remembering our soldiery from the war years.

Once back in Canada:

… we decided that since we’d always drunk the wine of the country, we’d drink beer. The only way to entertain is to put a case in the middle of the living room floor, bring out the opener, and some cheese and get on with it. I drink out of the bottle; some boyfriend’s father taught me to gargle it right down. Cold, it goes down, down, down.

And that was the way it was in those pre-connoisseur days, well sometimes anyway.

In the latter stages of her too-short life she favoured occasionally a drink of Scotch, no longer the beer. She states on the days Brewer’s Retail in Toronto did deliveries, she had “standing engagements” away from home. Nor could she carry cases from the outlets home as she had developed “tennis elbow” from years of doing so. She didn’t drive, and a taxi was too costly, hence the Scotch substituting for beer.

I am not certain if she is being facetious here, e.g., did Brewer’s Retail really deliver then? Maybe it did, more ahead of the time than I would have thought!

If Marian Engel was living today and could visit Missoula again, I’m sure she’d be amazed to discover her Scotchguard was still available. I don’t think she enjoyed the town then (apart from the beer), she makes a number of statements that suggest it was a place best left behind. Maybe it is different today, or she would find it so. Sadly, there won’t be an essay that appraises Scotchguard Mark II, or the I.P.A. that has replaced the Labatt I.P.A. of the old jazz clubs in Toronto.

Note re images: the first image above, of Marian Engel, was sourced from a German book site. The image above of a vintage Highlander beer was sourced at www.Picclick.com, here. All intellectual property in the images belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

 

#Flagship Friday #3 – Ringwood Ale

For the June #Flagship Friday, on tap is Ringwood Ale from Toronto- and Halifax-based Granite Brewery. Made since the early 1990s it’s a blonde ale, medium-strength, and a draft staple of the house. Ringwood is generally served chilled and fizzy, or “keg” style.

The Toronto Granite has been in business since 1991 and is owned and operated by Ron Keefe, a former corporate executive. With brother Kevin in Halifax they created a brewpub offering traditional, British-style ales and stout, many cask-conditioned. In recent years popular craft styles have been added to the range, among them Darkside, a Black IPA, Galactic Pale Ale, zesty with New World hops, and recently #1 Brand New Day, a New England-style IPA. There are continual one-offs and seasonal releases, everything from a molasses-laced Colonial porter to the Lady Macbeth Scotch Ale.

Increasingly, the family is involved in operations, and daughter Mary Beth now directs the brewing.

The sister brewery in Halifax is run by Ron’s elder brother Kevin. Kevin established the Halifax Granite after a few years mastering the bar business in the city. He studied craft brewing in England at the legendary Ringwood teaching brewery of Peter Austin. Ringwood was the cradle of many an early brewpub and craft brewery around the world including, say, Shipyard in the U.S.

The Granite’s flat-bottom, open-fermentation system and Ringwood yeast both derive from the Ringwood training. A departure is a new closed fermenter in Toronto, the ubiquitous cylindro-conical type. #1 Brand New Day NEIPA is the first output, and mighty good it is. If you blended a fruity Tiki cocktail and a West Coast IPA, that gives you an idea.

Due to recently losing its Halifax lease the Nova Scotia Granite is supplying area restaurants and bars with Granite beers made at the original Propeller brewery in Halifax (there is now a second location). A search is ongoing for a new site to restore the longstanding Granite retail business.

Ringwood Ale was not brewed when the Granite opened, it arrived a few years after. Ron explained to me how it came about. He had installed a Creemore Lager tap early on, the only beer not brewed on site, as an option for the many customers then who wanted a familiar mass-market brand. While offering more character than the typical Canadian beer then, customers could at least relate it to their usual brand preference. Soon the Creemore was taking a good part of the sales and it was decided to replace it with a similar but in-house alternative.

Enter Ringwood Ale. The name was taken from the house yeast. The beer did not derive from Kevin’s stint at Ringwood, Ron and Kevin hit on the formula using a variety of influences including the “Gold” taste popular at the time in craft brewing. The new beer took off and remains to this day a steady seller.

Ringwood Ale goes great with the Granite’s pub-oriented menu. It goes great on its own when you want something cold and light-bodied. Think lightly malty, fruity, with a mineral-like tang from yeast. While top-fermented, it does evoke lager to a degree – a secret to its success no doubt. The pale-coloured base malt and moderate hopping play a role here, but the beer has a character of its own.

Ringwood Ale is a classic Ontario flagship ale. The Granite itself is a flagship of the vibrant Ontario craft brewing scene. Try the beer if you pass by, it’s a taste that has endured and may meet your own.

Down The Pub

A Visit to the Local, Streamliner-style

I have off and on been chronicling the appeal in the American social pattern of the “English pub” aka “English tavern” aka “English Inn”. The terms were all happily mixed and mashed in the American mind without regard to the original distinctions.

In truth, the appeal has manifested since the beginning of the American project, despite the ostensible rift Independence caused with British customs and manners. Perhaps because the pub embodies hospitality and hence benignity, Auld Country associations have remained strong here.

The origins were sometimes disguised in the oft’ ambiguous term “Colonial”, hence Colonial tavern, Colonial punch bowl, Colonial nog, and so on. Still, the British origins continued to be recognized and were made patent again as memories of the American Revolution and the 1812 War softened.

I have examined manifestations in the post-Civil War era, Gilded Era, and 1930s, and still have much to write, notably on the more straightened (but still indulgent) attitude to the English public house in the 1910s, when Temperance sentiment was at its peak.

Looking at the Eisenhower and Space Age 1950s, the era seems least propitious to find the continuing appeal. After all, Prohibition had been over for 20 years. America had re-established its drinking customs and related institutions such as the corner bar, roadhouse, and city cocktail lounge. It seemingly didn’t need fresh inspiration from overseas models.

1933-1939 was a different matter, when in the diffident period following Repeal the English inn provided the perfect model for a renewed American bar, one type anyway.* This was due to its traditional and congenial associations. By the rocket age, the idea could seem old hat.

In the 1950s the chrome, circular-chaired, Naugahyded lounge emerged as a maximal node of comfort. Dry Martinis were sold there, refined in the last 50 years and the perfect antidote to Atomic Age anxieties. Men and women in the service during WW II weren’t likely to pine for olde English pub atmosphere and warm bitter beer, and the designers stayed away from that motif.

Stayed away mostly, but not entirely. You could still find English-theme taverns in ever-cosmopolitan New York. Even in the American West, with its own tradition of drinking bar – setting aside where the term saloon actually came from – there was evidence of the enduring appeal of the comfy British tavern.

It hadn’t quite gone away, and never has really in the last 200 years although I think its apogee was reached here between about 1965 and 2010. Yes, “craft beer bar”, I’m looking at you, now successfully transplanted to Britain. At one time Albion didn’t take lessons in what the drinking place should look like. Or the beer. It was rather the other way around. That was then.

And so in 1954, when Union Pacific Railroad placed new locomotives and consists (the related cars and equipment) on its Chicago-Denver run, it featured as club-lounge The Pub, a sleek number meant to resemble an English country tavern.

I wonder what beers were served there. America by 1954 had let almost all the old India Pale, stock, and still ales go by the wayside, so to speak. All that was left, apart the superficial architectural allusion, was the idea of the English public house, the romance associated with it. Retention of the core ale and porter – the things that fuelled and actually made the pub what it was – was felt unnecessary.

Anyway, if someone comes up with the bar list for The Pub, my life will be complete.

Meanwhile, we can contemplate the enclave as seen in this Norman Rockwell-style image, from a Union Pacific postcard sold in the period (see Note below for source).

Strapwork, casements, boarded walls and floor, Toby jugs – all check. The Day-Glo seat cushions do kind of obtrude, but it’s surely a stylized version – or so we are pleased to think – of the chintz or crushed velvet cushions once legion in Britain’s pubs, at least the Victorian type.

The English pub, as the Irish one to follow, has long been a cultural touchstone in America. Even Eisenhower America took notice.

Note: the image above, identified as in the public domain, was sourced from this informative Wikipedia account of the City of Denver, the train service mentioned.

…………………………………..

*See for example this advertisement by the Windmill Tavern in Brooklyn in 1933, in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Guilelessly offered is “ye olde golden lager”.

 

 

G. Selmer Fougner’s Landmark 1938 American Dinner

G. Selmer Fougner (1885-1941), the American food and drinks writer whom I have been chronicling here, was invited frequently to hundreds of dinners, tastings, and other gastronomic events in and outside New York where he was based, albeit he could attend only a comparative few.

On some occasions he created or at least inspired a dinner, and the most memorable I know is the historic All-American Dinner given at the University Club of New York on April 5, 1938. (The image below is sourced from Wikipedia’s article on the Club, see here).

In articles that appeared earlier in his “Along the Wine Trail” column in the New York Sun, Fougner described the genesis and planning for the event. His Sun column of March 15, 1938 explained the purpose of the dinner and the important role of the hosting venue:

The University Club, in undertaking to stage this event, is performing a distinguished service which will be appreciated by all those who have at heart the fine old traditions of American life. Coming as it does on the heels of a long series of so-called gourmet functions … the all-American dinner at the University Club will set a new mark for hotels and restaurants all over the land.

At readers’ insistence, he finally reproduced the menu in his column. The menu is notable for its resolutely American content. It fulfilled too Fougner’s wish that it be written in standard English, without the French flourishes commonly seen in high-toned menus then. He also wanted dishes that one might encounter in hotels and other frequent resorts – good food, not junk certainly, but avoiding in other words obscure or unduly costly specialties, and all prepared to a high standard, with American wines only to accompany.

Fougner was fostering here the creation of a sane national American cuisine, parallel and of equal value to the French cuisine then still daily presented for the Manhattan elite in top restaurants and hotels.

The University Club was a good place to test the idea. To be sure it was and still is an upscale, private social club but its membership went beyond the confines of the social register, for example. A college degree was the main prerequisite to join.

Approximately 250 people sat down for the dinner and by all reports it was a great success.

The service of all-American wines – indeed even one at a formal dining event – is notable for 1938, a bare five years after National Prohibition (1920-1933) ended. For decades to come indeed, epicurean societies would routinely (but not invariably) overlook American wines in favour of time-honoured European names. That has all changed and it is the vision of people like Fougner and the University Club organizing committee who helped make it so.

Below is the menu, from G. Selmer Fougner’s May 9, 1938 New York Sun column. See again the committee’s notes at the conclusion, and of course Fougner’s own commentary.

While the menu is largely self-explanatory, we might note the “Half-way Home”, which initially confounded us, was a serving of apple brandy, this was stated by Fougner in a July Sun column the same year on the famous (and still going strong!) Laird Distillery of New Jersey. In effect it was an American stab at the trou Normand, the serving of Calvados (Norman apple brandy) mid-meal to make a “hole” in digestion to allow the rest of the meal to be savoured.

As to the wines served, Fougner had a policy of not stating or recommending specific brands, especially for domestic products; hence the use of generic terms such as ” California Chablis”.

MENU

of the All-American dinner held at the University Club and Sponsored by ‘the Trail’.

Cocktails: Manhattan, Martini.

American Appetizers

Cape Cod Oysters on the Half Shell

American Sherry.

Celery, Carrots, Nuts,

Long Island Clam Broth

Parker House Rolls

Indiana Corn Sticks

Planked Shad and Roe – Delaware

California Chablis.

‘Half-Way Home’ 

Breast of Chicken—Maryland

Candied Yams-Louisiana

California Asparagus Tips, Butter Sauce

California Claret.

Boston Lettuce—Florida Avocado

Old Fashioned Strawberry Shortcake

American Champagne.

Sweet Catawba.

Coffee

American Cordials.

Description of Dishes…“.

One can see that inspiration was drawn from different parts of the country. The concept behind this menu did in fact have a precedent or two before Prohibition, nonetheless it represents with those events a milestone on the path to today’s heterogeneous, “food without borders” culture.

Today, not just American but non-French European, Asian, and other world cuisines are regularly featured in our eating places of high repute. They are valued as much or more so, today, than haute cuisine and French provincial dishes.

Indeed attempts are constantly made to mix and match the elements, fusion as it is known. Fougner may not have envisioned that but would be thoroughly happy, I think, with today’s culinary scene had he been aware of its intervening stages.

I’ll conclude by quoting, as he did to open the column enclosing the menu, a Trailer’s somewhat obtuse remarks. “Trailers” were followers of Fougner’s column. They often wrote him for advice, or to provide their own. It shows the stance, the idée reçue, to which the University Club dinner constituted a cultural response.

The reader’s thinking was widespread in the West at the time and it took many years for those attitudes to change, decades in fact.

“Recently you referred to the much heralded All-American dinner that was held at the University Club, and I had been awaiting with much interest the menu and wine list,” writes an East Eighth Street Trailer. “Being one of those benighted individuals who never eats anything, if it can be avoided, excepting what is prepared ‘a la Francaise,’ and drinks nothing but French wines (dinner without wine would not be worthy of the name to me) it would be interesting to read the menu and the wine list, both of which I had been looking forward to seeing in your column.”

Fougner’s determination to value American cuisine, to view it as more than a casual interest or daily fuelling, was lent weight by having lived in France and acquired French wine and culinary expertise at the highest level. No one could accuse him of culinary nativism, in a word.

Note re above image: Believed in public domain, sourced from the Wikipedia entry on the University Club of New York linked in the text. All feedback welcomed.