Au Chat Noir, New York 1900
Au Chat Noir was a hotel, restaurant and after-theatre supper club in Tin Pan Alley, a neighborhood in the city of New York where publishers and songwriters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries worked and socialised.
Like many venues of the era, it would have had a lively atmosphere with composers, song pluggers, vaudeville and Broadway performers coming and going. There was a full orchestra in the supper club, playing till 1am every day of the week.
This menu cover from 1900 shows a black cat dressed in chef’s whites and hat, holding a writing quill and a noticeboard. The friendly expression on the cat’s face suggests it was a “lucky” black cat that welcomed those involved in the printed music industry. Lunch was 50 cents, dinner cost a dollar and a plate of oysters and clams cost 10 cents. Au Chat Noir had a handsome wine list selling a quart of Chateau Margaux for $2 and offering its own bottled domestic wines.
This menu is from the extraordinary collection of Miss Frank E Buttolph at the New York Public Library. Born in Pennsylvania as Frances Editha Buttles in 1844, Miss Buttolph began collecting menus while in her 50s. She wrote writing to chefs, took out advertisements in trade journals and even petitioned the British Library in London for Royal menus. Known for her tenacity and obstinacy, she insisted that the menus she collected were in pristine condition, sending them back if they were not, and emblazoned all the ones that passed her quality test with a distinctive blue oval stamp. An eccentric and fractious character, she made the NYPL her place of work though she was never employed there. She was asked to leave in 1923 and died the following year.
Courtesy New York Public Library Digital Collection.
Each print is accompanied by a copy of the interior menu where available.
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