A Champagne New Year’s Eve, 1942

New York Celebrates Under Unusual Circumstances

I was discussing wartime menus of the Wine and Food Society of New York recently. In those posts, I reviewed menus that suggested once war was afoot the Society avoided presenting German and Italian wines. After France was fully occupied in the fall of 1940 French wines also disappeared from the menus.

There was the odd exception of a minor nature, I gave some examples.

The Society’s events were held at prime New York hotels and the Waldorf-Astoria was a favourite venue, indeed into the 1970s at least.

And so, it occurred to me perhaps this policy was as much or more inspired by the hotels themselves. While I have not examined early-1940s New York wine lists in any detail, I did uncover this gem – certainly in graphic design – from the Waldorf proper – no involvement by the Society, that is.

The menu is dated December 31, 1942, it was a New Year’s Eve supper with music.

The full item can be read here, from the archives of The Culinary Institute of America, accessible via the estimable website of Hudson River Valley Heritage.

It was held, not in the Grand Ballroom where Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians serenaded on New Year’s for many years, but in the Waldorf’s Lounge, later known as the Bull and Bear bar and steak restaurant.

The menu was rather restrained and informal, but I am not certain if war conditions imposed this. Such entertainments were often held late in the evening. As the meal was a second or late dinner for many, maybe the practice was to offer a light, home-style meal, even pre-war that is.

Certainly the Champagne list is luxurious and heavily French. There are a total of 22 Champagnes, and 10 domestic sparklers.

Indeed the champers are weighted to vintage bottlings (the wine of the named year’s harvest only, not a blending of different years), with prices to match. Domestic sparklers came from different regions including New Jersey’s Renault, still going strong and profiled some time ago in these pages.

The shimmering cover conveys both Waldorf elegance and an atypical atmosphere through the lady toasting the uniformed figure. He could be an officer in the armed services, but his image also suggests to me a service employee such as a doorman, bellman, chauffeur, even a policeman.

My sense is the designer wanted to be inclusive of all of them, indeed of all civilians in blue collar. They were doing their part for the war effort, but on the home front.

The menu, striking cover and all, is a curio that demonstrates civilized life carried on in the U.S., probably to a greater degree than for the other Allied nations. This was not due to any unique insouciance of U.S. society. The U.S., and Canada, suffered great losses fighting Hitler albeit not on the scale of Russia or Britain.

I attribute the indulgence in Champagne to the fact that the U.S. was wealthy: if it could drink good wine of the type traditional for New Year’s Eve, it would.

Wine writer Michael Broadbent has written (see p. 427) that despite fine postwar French vintages for Champagne, especially 1945 and 1947, the wines when arrived in London had a hard time of it. The reason was, there was plenty of prewar stock to use up first!

So the intuitive notion that prewar French wine in London and New York was exhausted by 1945 was not the case for London certainly, and we see here an example for New York, part-way through the war. I’m not sure about German wines though, I’d guess the Waldorf did not serve these in the war years, but would need to check.

The eschewing of wines from Axis countries or nations under their yoke for Wine and Food Society events in 1940-1945 seems therefore the policy of the Society. Commendable it was, too. Apart from the ethics of it, the forays that resulted in domestic and non-Axis international wines showed New York epicures new vinous horizons.

This reverberated in the postwar period, delayed though some of the effects were. Necessity is the mother, not just of invention, but of enduring social and cultural change.

I’ll try to look further into what New York and London hotels offered by way of wine in the early 1940s.

Note re images: the original 1942 menu, linked in the text from the Culinary Institute of America, is the source for the three images above. All intellectual property in the menu belongs solely to the lawful owner or authorized user, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.



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