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Evangeline Holland

PhD student, public historian, and author of historical fiction that complicates the past by night! Follow me on Twitter @edwardian_era

Happy Birthday Delmonico’s!

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's 44th St. and 5th Ave. N.Y., 1898
‘s 44th St. and 5th Ave. N.Y., 1898

Delmonico’s turned 180 years old this week, and its current incarnation turned up and turned out in style to celebrate the amazing milestone with Gilded Age celebrities, costumes, and food.

Granted, one hundred and eighty years means that despite the grand restaurant being synonymous with the Gilded Age, it was founded well before the robber barons and Astors and Vanderbilts turned Fifth Avenue into a rich man’s playground. It was in 1837, to be exact, that the Delmonico brothers–John and Pietro–emigrated to American and opened a pastry shop in the business district of New York. They quickly prospered, with merchants, bankers, and the like addicted to the deliciously light and airy French pastries and hot coffee that was then a novelty to many Americans. The brothers were frugal, yet visionary, and when they accumulated enough business, they opened a restaurant next door to the pastry shop–Delmonico’s.

The lavish French and Italian dishes produced from Delmonico’s kitchens matched the zeitgeist of the proto-Gilded Age of the 1840s and 1850s, where the Erie Canal and railroads created a cohort of men who were millionaires one day and paupers the next. New York’s increasing prominence as the hub of American culture and high life also helped the prominence of Delmonico’s, since visiting European entertainers, artists, writers, and royals gravitated towards finely-cooked meals that reminded them of the best restaurants across the Atlantic.

Delmonico’s entered its iconic stage in the 1860s, when nephew Lorenzo Delmonico took the reins and the famed chef Charles Ranhofer entered its kitchens. Throughout the Gilded Age, there were actually multiple Delmonico’s locations across Manhattan, though the flagship location, so to speak, was located in a luxurious building at Fifth Avenue and 26th Street from 1876-1899. As early as the 1850s, Delmonico’s was the preferred site for high society gatherings, from suppers to cotillions. Though the brownstones of Old New York’s Knickerbockers were obviously too small to accommodate large parties, the practice of relatively public events held at Delmonico’s (or its rival, Sherry’s) was retained even after wealthy New Yorkers migrated up Fifth Avenue from Washington Square, where they built astonishing mansions. The reason for this: Ward McAllister, the social arbiter and the Mrs. Astor’s right hand man until his fall from grace in the early 1890s.

Delmonico’s under the approval of McAllister, the management of Lorenzo’s nephew Charles (Lorenzo died in 1881) and later Charles’s nephew Charles “Young Charley” Delmonico, and the chef’s knife of Ranhofer, reached it epoch. The 1880s and 1890s saw Delmonico’s as the site of many of the Gilded Age’s most infamous dinners, where multimillionaires splashed out thousands of dollars for the finest food and wine, the best cutlery, and the most luxurious of decor.

This was also the period in which the most famous Gilded Age dish, Lobster à la Newburg was invented by Ranhofer. The recipe originated from a sea captain named Ben Wenburg, but when he had a falling out with Ranhofer, the Delmonico’s chef merely replicated the dish with his own tweaks–including inverting its originator’s name!

The battle of the restaurant of the Four Hundred was waged in the 1890s, when Louis Sherry opened his eponymous restaurant and specialized in the types of treats and decor that appealed to the ladies of the Four Hundred. Sherry’s was also larger than Delmonico’s, which attracted the growing number of diners annoyed by the long wait-times to get into “Del.” Young Charley responded by closing the location at 26th Street and building a larger restaurant at 44th Street in 1897–though, by this time, competition for the patronage of the wealthy and famous was stiff, with the Waldorf-Astoria opening its doors that same year, and popular night spots known as “lobster palaces” siphoned the more raffish crowd. Nevertheless, if a member of high society or a politician wished to host a stately dinner, Delmonico’s was the only proper place to do it.

Most of Gilded Age New York’s popular restaurants fell afoul of Prohibition, but as seen with the 180th birthday celebration, the spirit of Delmonico’s continues to live on!

What’s Next: Edwardian Promenade 2.0

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Ten years ago today I wrote my first post for this site. I’ve experienced a lot of ups and downs in my life, but kept plugging away here; it was a bit of a lifesaver actually, an oasis and place of relaxation. However, on the flip side, the comfort and predictability of running this site made me dig in my heels a little, it made me reluctant to flap my wings and fly. There have been many things I’ve wanted to try, but psyched myself out of doing, and some things I tried but lost confidence in continuing.

No more!

Edwardian Promenade 2.0 is going to be a little different.

Namely, I’m focusing on the production of Curio, which I half-mockingly call “historical goop.” That is, a bimonthly, history-based, lifestyle digital magazine. There may be plans to make it available in print if demand is high enough. Send me an email if you’re interested in ad space.

The website isn’t going away, of course, but updates will be more focused on history as it lives today than on random factoids, excerpts, and long reads. I want to excite you, engage you, make history more than words on a page. Send me an email if you’d like to write for EP.

Under my company Plum Bun Media, I will be releasing some e-courses about conserving and preserving family histories, research, and other interesting topics.

I’m creating a series of history subscription boxes. One aimed at home-schoolers, another aimed at foodies, another aimed at crafters, etc. Support my Patreon at the Duke/Duchess level for first dibs on the boxes.

Lastly, I’m going to experiment with digital content: podcast and documentaries. After years of watching BBC documentaries, I find the American-style quite stodgy and staid! I want to be the US version of Lucy Worsley!

Thank you for ten years, and I hope you’ll love what I have planned!

Edwardian Promenade is 10!

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There have been many times where I contemplated ending my maintenance of Edwardian Promenade, and a few times where I made moves to do so; however, I am extremely astonished and pleased to have met this milestone: a decade of blogging on Edwardian, Gilded Age, Belle Epoque, (anything between the 1880s and 1920s) history! I’ve witnessed the innocuous beginnings of the worldwide phenomenon Downton Abbey, have been asked to join some fantastic projects in conjunction with EP, met a ton of amazing people, from fellow bloggers to authors to academics to editors and agents to genuine TV and film people–and all through the passion of sharing history with you all.

It is Edwardian Promenade that encouraged me to not only finish the last bit of my education but continue on to get a Ph.D.

It is the community built around Edwardian Promenade that motivated me even when I doubted the worthiness of my dedication to this site.

It is the amazing feedback from a diverse set of readers that enthused my search for interesting things to share.

I want to thank the people who’ve come aboard over the years to add their unique perspectives to Edwardian Promenade: Rachel Pritchard, Diana Sousa, Melody B, Tasha Heidenkind, Jennifer Hallock, and Lydia San Andres!

I definitely give a huge thank you to my regular blog commenters (Hels in particlar!)

It’s a little daunting to think about the next decade of Edwardian Promenade, but I hope you want to come along too! Which is why I’ve launched a Patreon for my superfans and superfriends.

What is Patreon, you ask? It’s a handy website that allows you to support your favorite creators (in this case, moi). I am building Edwardian Promenade 2.0–a greatly enhanced version of the site that includes more digital and video media, more history, and just more of everything I already offer, except on a more consistent and exciting basis. I also want to give back to the community by helping high school and college students be #historycreatives™ through formal internships where they will learn how to research, write and edit engaging history posts, film or record and edit videos and podcasts, how to conduct interviews, put them in contact with mentors in public history, and more!

In return for your support, I plan a tier of goodies, ranging from monthly downloadables to a quarterly subscription box full of history-based swag and treats. Click on the image below for more information.