California Wines Gain Currency In The American Imagination

Shanley's Wine List 1917

This one-page wine list from Shanley’s on 42nd Street in New York hails from 1917.*

Shanley’s appears to have been a solid mid-town restaurant, much above a diner and that sort but not a society or epicurean haunt. The food menu shows a range of dishes likely to appeal to the prosperous middle class of different ethnicities, including the old stock of New York, out for a show or other entertainment.

In a compact page, a variety of drinks groups is covered. Notable attention is given to “California wines”.  As far as I know, this is one of the first menus to feature such wines under that description and not part of a general “American” category which could include, for example, New York State sparkling wines and the native-grape Catawba type. Indeed many earlier menus simply avoided American wines; this started to change about this period, and gained in speed from the 1950’s on after the interruptions of Prohibition.

While still described by reference to European original types (Moselle, Burgundy, St-Julien (Bordeaux), etc.), these California productions clearly found favour with people, as they did on Rector’s higher-end menus of about the same period. Americans were starting to take pride in their own. Cresta Blanca produced numerous of the wines featured by Shanley’s. This property still exists and is now owned by the well-known Wente house, it is used as a special event locale and I believe grapes are still grown on the property.

On the beer side, one sees the usual suspects as bottled imports and Budweiser offered as a premium domestic beer. Another beer from Anheuser-Busch is available as a draft beer, probably the same brand. Budweiser then was probably a very good beer and perhaps tasted more like a modern Czech lager than the present Bud – but who knows. A Beverwyck beer was the other draft selection. Beverwyck was an old house from the State capital, Albany, up the Hudson.  Likely it was an ale. Beverwyck lasted into the early 1970’s but had been purchased by Schaefer in the 50’s, whence the bell started to toll.

Fetching its ale from upriver showed that Shanley was intent on presenting something different from the beers of Manhattan, boroughs and Jersey, but still “Empire State”.

Shanley’s looked like a fun place, probably offering excellent quality without pretension, qualities valued no less today – when you can find them.

 

*The full menu is at http://menus.nypl.org/menus/32763 and is from the New York Public Library’s (www.nypl.org) archive collection of historic menus.