Welcome to another installment in one of the most popular series on this blog, the “date night in history” series. We’ve been at this nine weeks now, and we’ve pretty much got Manhattan covered. After sashaying out on the town on a weekend evening in November 1938, March 1977, August 1922, October 1951, September 1985, April 1943, May 1967, December 1916 and June 1997, I think we probably know each other pretty well, and there aren’t many eras left in the 20th century to visit. I hope you won’t dump me after tonight’s installment, because, as you’re about to find out, the 1900s kind of suck.
Today is Friday, July 28, 1905. Although this is supposed to be a weekend celebration, it almost doesn’t matter that it’s Friday, because virtually no one in New York or anywhere else in the U.S. works a 40-hour work week with two-day weekends. Tomorrow, Saturday, is a plain old work day for most people just like any other. (Now do you miss those labor unions?) Anyway, it’s warm and fair today, high 83, getting cloudy later with light winds. At least it’s not hot as blazes. The city doesn’t smell too good in deep summer and we’re still in the era where a lot of rich people spend the summer in cooler environs–Long Branch or Asbury Park, New Jersey are popular destinations. In fact, we may want to get out of the city entirely. There’s a daily train and steamer package to Block Island, Rhode Island. It’s a 4 1/2 hour trip, departing every day at 10:30 AM from the Flatbush Avenue station of the Long Island Railroad. We’ll be on Block Island by 3PM. I have no idea what there is to do on Block Island in 1905, but it might be better than what’s doing in Manhattan.
Anyway, I digress. In the news today, President Theodore Roosevelt is at his retreat on Long Island, Sagamore Hill, with some distinguished guests. One of them is the Japanese envoy, Komura. TR is trying to persuade him to make peace with the Russians to end the Russo-Japanese War. Who knows, he might get a Nobel Peace Prize. Speaking of Russia, Kaiser Wilhelm II, he-of-the-epic-handlebar-mustache, is in St. Petersburg, trying to convince Tsar Nicholas II not to make an alliance with England. In midsummer everybody’s on vacation, so not much is happening around the world.
If you’re adventurous enough to go down to Little Italy, I’m sure we can get some very authentic Italian food.
Let’s go out and eat first, or at least get a drink. I suspect Manhattan is rife with restaurants and watering holes, but you have to know where to go–most of them don’t advertise. We could go to the Old Homestead for a steak, which has been in the same location, 56 Ninth Avenue, since 1868. But, we’ve already been there. If you want something really rustic and are feeling adventurous, I know a little joint down in Little Italy. It’s called Petrucci’s Wines & Brandies, 488 Ninth Avenue, but they also sell food. However, I’m not sure it’s a sit-down restaurant, and unless you speak Italian or have Italian roots, it would be odd for us to show up there. Not a lot of people speak English in Little Italy. But it might be worth it to get a good glass of Italian wine, assuming such a thing exists in New York in 1905.
There are two other places I’m aware of but I’m almost embarrassed to mention them. The first is Childs Restaurant, of which there are several, but the most prominent is at 36 West 34th Street. Childs is something new: a chain of establishments all with the same name, same food and same service. Imagine that! We can get a corned beef sandwich or a ham sandwich for 5 cents, or graham crackers and milk for a dime. Not the most romantic place in the world, I grant you, but hey, it’s 1905. The other place is Huyler’s, which is owned by a candy company They have a new place at 60 West 125th Street, and serve ice cream and fountain drinks. They also have a telephone connection, so if you need to call somebody, that’s our play. Why not call a travel agent and get us out of here?
Childs was one of the first restaurant chains to have standardized menus, the same wherever you went.
After dinner–if we can call it that–our options for entertainment aren’t really robust. Broadway as an institution hasn’t really gotten going yet, but there are some goings-on here and there, mostly vaudeville, which is really big right now. At Hammerstein’s Paradise Roof Gardens, 42nd and Broadway at about Seventh Avenue, there’s a vaudeville show at 8:15, but I have no idea who’s playing. The Lyric Theater, not far away, has a show called “Fantana,” and the Aerial Gardens has a double-feature beginning at 8:30. The first show is called “Lifting the Lid” and the second “The Whole Damm Family.” Rooftop gardens and theaters are evidently all the rage. At the New York Roof & Wisteria Grove at 8:30 there’s a vaudeville called “The Red Domino.” My guess is this is all pretty low-brow humor. It’s summer, so big shows, operas and cultural events are out of season. Honestly, would Caruso spend late July in New York?
Movies aren’t that much of an option either–there’s not very many movie houses in Manhattan, but there are a few. The Eden Theater has something called a Cinematograph, and they’re showing Wonder in Wax, whatever that is. At Brighton Beach Park, which I suspect is an outdoor venue, there’s a movie about the Boer War showing at 7:30 and 9:00 PM. The Boer War was over three years ago, but I guess it took that long to get into the moving pictures.
Going out on the town in 1905, the streets are going to look a lot like this.
I’ll be honest–I’m not super-thrilled with New York in 1905. Let me again suggest that we get out of town. In fact, the Pennsylvania Railroad is offering a package tour to the West Coast, across the Canadian Rockies, to see the Lewis & Clark Exposition in Portland, Oregon. It’s a three week trip and we’re all in, meals and expenses, for $200. I hear the Lewis & Clark is quite amazing. It’s got to be better than what’s going on around Manhattan. Three weeks is a long time to be on a train, but I’m up for it if you are.
Thanks for bearing with me on these interesting trips through time. I have no idea where we’ll land next, but I definitely hope it’s a little better than the 1900s. Begone with this sorry decade, and see you on on the town again somewhere else in time!