From Lunch Wagons to Dining Palaces, a Feast of Food, News and Gossip

Industry and Commerce
Published December 3, 1998

From Lunch Wagons to Dining Palaces, a Feast of Food, News and Gossip

| Published December 3, 1998

Ludwig Achtel-Stetter’s restaurant, 1897. The Newark Public Library

This week we are going to examine some of the once-prominent restaurants many of us might remember, or which our parents or grandparents may have visited.

Imagine if we talked about some of today’s eating establishments and forgot to mention the competition. Heads would roll. So, we make no attempt to embrace contemporary establishments. Still, there is plenty of grist for the restaurant mill if we stick to describing many of the golden oldies. After 1836 and the publication of the Newark City Directories, it became relatively easy to identify the many taverns, inns, pubic houses, oyster bars, steak and chop houses, catering facilities, beer gardens, delicatessens and finer restaurants in the city. Today’s restaurants include a marvelous assortment of fine eating places, among them Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Brazilian and home cooking establishments. Many of them are so well-known that the Newark Public Library received a call from an individual aboard a plane flying into town who wanted an update of Spanish restaurants where he could make reservations for a dinner business meeting later that day.

Early Taverns

Before the Revolutionary War, Newark had two taverns: the Rising Sun and the Eagle. Gen. George Washington enjoyed refreshments at the latter during his brief stay in town. As stagecoach transportation developed after the war, the role of the tavern became more prominent. Perhaps the best-known tavern after the war was that of Archer Gifford at Broad and Market streets. The sign over the front door stated, 'Hounds and the Morn.' According to historian John Cunningham, 'Every seasoned traveler liked Arch Gifford for his good nature and his fine table.' Not only was Gifford’s abode known for its good food, it also served as a center for news and gossip, life in the community, and the conducting of local government. Similar taverns were operated by Capt. Parkhurst on Broad Street near Market. The Rising Sun was near the Passaic Bridge and Roff’s Inn and Halsey’s Tavern were nearby.

Lost Saloons

Founded in 1862, Murray’s was one of the best-known saloons and cafes in an era when 'a gentleman could enjoy a king’s lunch and the best companionship for the price of a nickel beer.' A lavish emporium, decked in the Gay ‘90s Style, it was brilliantly illuminated with wall and ceiling mirrors and was filled with gleaming brass rails and strategically placed spittoons. Luncheons included a hearty serving of beef with gravy, potatoes, other vegetables and homemade baked bread—for just 15 cents. Owner and operator Pete Murray kept his customers’ attention by installing a ticker tape which spewed forth sporting, election and racing news. Visitors included John L. Sullivan, Gentleman Jim Corbett and Jim Jefferies. While the saloon and restaurant business thrived after Prohibition, the revived institutions were not always the same. 'The places are gone and most of the kindhearted, friendly saloonkeepers who ran them, too.' By the 1930s, many such Broad Street institutions had passed or were passing into memory.

The Gilded Age

In 1865, the Daily Advertiser reported on the new French-style restaurant, the Maison Grise, which 'recently opened by Mssrs. Labiaux and Courtots at 182 Market near Mulberry. …They have fitted up a first-class establishment which is elegant and luxurious in all its appointments and compares most credibly with Delmonico’s and the Maison Dorree, and the highest class of this or any other country.' At last, Newark had opened a major restaurant on a par with its finest New York competition. In 1874, Simon Davis of 974 Broad St. launched another important restaurant and catering service. Its old-fashioned menu included oysters on the half shell, turtle soup, boiled red snapper with sauce Creole, chick terrapin with assorted sandwiches, squab la Philadelphia, and fancy desserts including ice cream and bisquit tortoni. Also offered were coffee and La Rose De Santiago cigars along with an assortment of wines and a drink referred to only as 'a Greater Newark punch.' Lifelong employees of the restaurant and catering service included Charles Bogert, chef for 55 years; head baker Pietro Santangelo, and Charles Lewis. Thomas Walsh, the restaurant’s ice cream maker, produced a green ice cream on St. Patrick’s Day. Harry Garrett, a waiter for 50 years, directed that his funeral cortege pass the restaurant. In 1950, the year the restaurant closed, its most famous patron was the Shah of Iran.

Other restaurants of note of the 1890s were Ludwig Achtel-Stetter’s establishment at 842 Broad near the Central Railroad Station, famous for its German cooking and walls hung with Chicago World’s Fair views; Billie Greason’s 156 Market St. establishment, where you drank creamy ale and consumed oysters and rarebits in what was described as ' a dingy palace, full of atmosphere with bare tables and the brick sidewalk over your head.' Carl Ammann’s Central Restaurant at 252 Market St. was good for hasenpfeffer. Ireland’s, on Market Street, was identifiable from the outside because of the brass letters of its name in the sidewalk. It was well-known for its eels and cheese sandwiches. Krueger’s restaurant was located near the old brewery on Belmont Avenue. Don Leick’s rathskeller was in the basement of a building on the site that became Bamberger’s department store. And DeJianne’s served fancy meals to the well-heeled on Broad Street, not far from today’s Broad Street station. Another late 19th century food landmark was Mother Gunning’s cafe at 131 West St. It had a 150-foot bar of ancient oak and was always crowded and smoky. It also was a place where political talk ruled supreme. Patrick Gunning, the Third Ward political boss, died, leaving his widow to run the place for most of her life. She did a good job. During her lifetime, not only did she direct what might be called a restaurant and political club, she also entertained Woodrow Wilson, Gov. Harry Moore, Jack Dempsey and Mayor Thomas Raymond, who once donned an apron behind the oak bar. The baked beans, pork slabs and beer continued to roll across the counter, almost until Mother Gunning’s death in 1941. At 137 Mulberry St., Leuthaseur’s restaurant was known for its sauerbraten, dumplings and four-inch thick coconut pies. Because of the rising cost of food and close ties to Germany during World War II, the place lost out when the operation was confiscated by the government in the 1940s.

Movable Meals

Closing out the 19th century in Newark dining culture was the movable lunch wagon. Conveyances similar to the old-fashioned pushcart were designed in the 1890s to provide light meals on wheels. Often these portable restaurants were horse- or mule-drawn and parked in vacant lots with piers under them to provide stability when in use. The lunch wagon was used in poor neighborhoods where the residents could not support a restaurant, providing meals at odd hours when true restaurants could not be staffed. Gradually, they evolved into modern diners. One such example was located at Orange and Market streets, described as 'an unusual eating place, which it is claimed by its officers will be a milestone in the restaurant industry of America in that is users began an era of the super diner.' The Spic and Span Diner, designed by Raymond S. Flatt, had a stark simple exterior and casement windows trimmed in black marble. The plate-glass entrance was trimmed with bold decorations. The interior centered around a long bar counter that extended the length of the building, covered with black formica, accentuated by silver decorations and with a massive chromium nickel hood. Upholstered leather seats were supported by bronze back rests. The terrazzo floor was divided into square brass designs. From this prototype, 100 similar 'dining rooms' were built in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.