Lunch among the tombstones would seem a melancholy repast. But not so for the well-dressed girls of Manhattan. In The Personality of American Cities (1913), Edward Hungerford writes that “part of the lunch hour is always a stroll – unless there be a downpour.” With “little packages” of food in tow, the gay ladies head for the churchyards, where they plop down amid the graves to gossip and eat lunch. “No one molests them,” Hungerford reports, “and the church authorities, although a little flustered when this first began, have seen that there is no harm in it.” They let the girls rest in peace.
The less affluent office girls are loth to share the lunch hour with the dearly departed. Eschewing the humous charms of St. Paul’s or Trinity, they head for the more lively atmosphere of a most unique eating establishment: the lunch counter cum dance hall. He was a clever lunch-man indeed, Hungerford writes, who “placed a row of chairs along one edge of his dancing-hall” and over them a sign that read “Smoking Permitted at This End of the Room.” Office girls cramped from hours at a desk could drink malts and revive their limbs with twenty minutes or so of rug-cutting.
These lunch counter dance halls thrived despite moral censure directed at them from certain quarters. Some folks felt they compromised the morality of their patrons. The author of The Social Evil in New York (1910) opines that, though dance halls offer “the most popular form of recreation to young people,” they will no doubt prove “the open door to an immoral life.”
Whether those office girls stood on the precipice of something dark and sinful have gone unrecorded, as have the kind of victuals that fueled these lunch-time balls. The refreshment was likely something innocuous, such as vanilla egg creams prepared much along the lines of the recipe below, which appears in The Laurel Health Cookery (1911).
Vanilla Egg Cream
Beat the white of an egg with 1-2 teaspns. of sugar, reserving a little for the top; chop in the yolk with 1 tablespn. of cream and a delicate flavoring of vanilla; serve in a glass, with white on top of yolk mixture.
Or, for a change, beat the white and yolk separately, add half the sugar and cream to each, flavor yolk with vanilla, pile white in a dainty glass dish and pour yolk mixture over it. A little of the white may be chopped with the yolk.
Would you rather receive The Austerity Kitchen by email? Then sign up for my Substack.
And, if you’d like to help the Kitchen keep cookin’, please consider picking up a copy of my book, which you may find on one of the sites listed here.
2 thoughts on “New York City’s Lunch Counter Dance Halls”
you're welcome! I'm glad TNI and its spinoffs, seeming proponents of freedom of expression and all that empowerment stuff, have no qualms with squelching helpful comments after extracting their utility, sans acknowledgment.
but hey, I'm nameless here so I don't exist as an individual to you!
anyway, continue building your facade.
Actually, just got around to publishing comments now. Thanks for catching my error!