New York Restaurant Kitchens

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Kyle Jolliffe

New York Restaurant Kitchens

Thousands of “golden age” postcards show New York City restaurants – some from as early as 1900. However, most of them depict dining rooms and exterior views. Sometimes the food being served is in a view, but in general, kitchens are ignored. It is as if the kitchen and its staff are only people and places to be tolerated by the owners of the place, who care little about showcasing the cleanliness and efficiency of the sophisticated kitchen and the hard-working staff.

The hard-to-find postcards of restaurant kitchens, like the ones shown here, do provide a picture of cleanliness, efficiency, and organization. And, in my view, they show pride in the work of feeding their customers. These postcards were most often produced as parts of a set that included other interior and exterior views of a restaurant or hotel.

The Port Arthur Restaurant in New York’s Chinatown opened in 1897 and remained in operation for over 80 years. In this view from about 1900, the kitchen staff and perhaps one of the owners/managers are shown near a large stove and the food station tables. Another large stove, fueled by gas, coal, or charcoal, is on the right. A card like this may have been included in a set with other interior and exterior views of the Port Arthur to dispel public perceptions that Chinese restaurants are often unclean.

The Café Raub was a restaurant at Fulton and Nassau Streets in the financial district. In this circa 1908 card, we can see (left) the portly Herman Raub, one of the owners, is in a serious discussion with someone who may be the head chef. Raub also operated another Café Raub on Fulton Street in Brooklyn. This is a wonderful card, portraying the restaurant hierarchy as well as its kitchen layout. My guess is that the man on the far right is the head waiter.

The Grand Union Hotel operated from 1868 to 1914 at Park Avenue and 41st Street, opposite Grand Central Depot. In this picture, perhaps from 1906, we can see the kitchen staff, a station for preparing salads, and a large, ventilated range area for cooking. This image also exhibits some of the qualities listed in an article from the April issue of Indoors and Out: A Monthly Magazine Devoted to Art and Nature, on club and hotel kitchens. The expressly stated qualities for success:

(a) the division of the kitchen into distinct parts where different classes of food are kept or prepared;
(b) every precaution being taken to keep uncooked food cold and cooked food hot;
(c) every safeguard being taken for cleanliness; and
(d) adequate ventilation.

The Hotel Astor was a huge and famous hotel which operated from 1905 to 1967 in a Times Square area bounded by Broadway, Shubert Alley, and 44th and 45th Streets. The image shows the hotel’s huge number of fast-paced waiters and kitchen staff as well as its many food preparation stations, likely located in the basement.



Shanley’s

“Elegant” and perhaps “fashionable” are keywords critics used to describe Shanley’s restaurant. Located on the east side of Broadway at 43rd Street, it was known as one of the “lobster palaces” on Broadway. It operated there from 1896 to 1911. This card of its main kitchen displays similar food stations and ventilated ranges as in the Grand Union Hotel and Hotel Astor kitchens.



Manny Wolf’s

Manny Wolf’s was a steak and chop house located at 49th Street and Third Avenue. Wolf’s served New Yorkers from 1897 to the mid-1970s. This chrome card displays similar food stations and ventilated ranges as in the hotel restaurants and Shanley’s card, but with more modern labor-saving devices.

An army of men and women worked in these restaurant kitchens. And today, a younger army of workers still does, in the successors to these restaurants from a century ago, all to answer the call of New Yorkers and tourists seeking a bite to eat.

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I have dozens of postcards of restaurant interiors and exteriors, but none of a restaurant kitchen. Mr. Jolliffe found an interesting aspect of restaurant postcards. I will be on the lookout at future postcard shows.

Nice article, Kyle. Now that you mention it, I don’t have any restaurant kitchen postcards, and only one that I can think of showing a home kitchen. So these are real rarities and great to see.

Some diners prefer the kitchen to be invisible, but I don’t mind seeing chefs and cooks at work when I’m at a restaurant.

Great idea, Kyle. Nice article.

Great subject! Great cards! Great article! Thanks Kyle for putting this all together.

Wonderful article. I too have an extensive restaurant card collection, but there are none that really show an entire kitchen area. Several of my cards have Chefs shown in them however, they are in the front of the house (Dining area) and not the back of the house (Kitchen).

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