Rabbit Hole || Dinner de Luxe at The World Famous Cotton Club, 1938

04/04/2015 § 5 Comments

Cotton Club 1 - 1938 Cotton Club 2 Cotton Club 3 Cotton Club 4 Cotton Club 5

I’ve recently been spending quite a bit of time in the NewYork Public Library’s digital collection of menus.  An incredible collection of documents from around the world, dating from the 1850s through the 2000s, it is fascinating to observe trends in cuisine and cocktails – and prices!

I am always the most excited to find menus from storied New York establishments, those still standing like the New York Athletic Club and Tavern on the Green, and others that have since shuttered, like this one, from The Cotton Club in 1938, when it occupied its theatre district location at 48th Street and Broadway.  The Cotton Club was a nightclub that featured and launched the careers of some of the most notable black musicians and entertainers of the era, but served an all-white clientele.  At the time of the menu, Cab Calloway and his band headlined a twice nightly musical review that frequently included overtly racist themes similar to the images on the menu cover — as you can readily observe from the show program. **Be sure to click to enlarge the images.

Also interesting is the expansive cocktail menu.  Most other menus in the archive from this era mention only a few classic drinks and possibly a wine list, but because its primary function was as a nightclub and not merely a restaurant, The Cotton Club’s menu features all sorts of cocktails — separated from “Fancy Mixed Drinks,” mind you.  Nestled among the classics I already recognize, I was happy to find more obscure cocktails like the “Horse’s Neck,” the “Bronx,” the “Pink Lady,” and the “Jack Rose.”  All of which prompted a quick search and mental note to try out in the near future.  You’ll also notice a drink called the “Tall, Tan, & Terrific.”  A signature cocktail if ever there was one, the phrase is a nod to the Club’s chorus girls, all of whom were required to be taller than 5’6,” light-skinned and under twenty-one years of age.

To get a sense of the sort of performance patrons viewed on the nights this menu was in use, I’ve found a great short film made by Paramount in 1934 of Cab Calloway, featuring some of his most famous hits.  Nicknamed the “Hi-De-Ho Man” after his success with his song “Minnie the Moocher,” you get to view a bit of Calloway’s distinctive singing style, his call and response technique with the orchestra, his inspired dance moves.  Love it.  I mean, his hair alone!

As an added bonus, a very famous clip from Stormy Weather (1943), featuring Cab Calloway and his orchestra as well as an amazing routine by the Nicholas Brothers, another act that called the Cotton Club home.

Images via NYPL.

Throwback Thursday || Autumn in New York

11/10/2012 § 1 Comment

Holy smokes!  Where’ve ya been, kid?

Guilty as charged!  I’ve definitely been quiet this week, and I’ve got to chalk it up to autumn in New York, which is quietly unfurling its beautiful self with cool evenings, hot toddys, falling leaves and flannel bathrobes.  I’ve slipped down a few rabbit holes these last few days, of the cultural, literary, culinary, musical, and cinematic kind, which I am looking forward to sharing with you very soon.  But today, I am forced to beg your forgiveness for being a wayward parent as of late.  I’m hoping a gorgeous rendition of Autumn in New York by Sarah Vaughn might help me win you back…

Autumn in New York
Why does it seem so inviting
Autumn in New York
It spells the thrill of first-nighting

Glittering crowds and shimmering clouds
In canyons of steel
They’re making me feel
I’m home

It’s autumn in New York
That brings the promise of new love
Autumn in New York
Is often mingled with pain

Dreamers with empty hands
May sigh for exotic lands
It’s autumn in New York
It’s good to live it again

Throwback Thursday || Stormy Weather

04/10/2012 § 1 Comment

  With today’s gloomy weather in New York, this seemed positively apropos…
As sung by Lena Horne in the 1943 film by the same name.
For more of the beautiful Miss Lena, head here.

LIFE Archives: Glenn Miller {A Nightingale Sang…}

02/09/2011 § 1 Comment

Do you recall I went to Sleep No More a few months ago?  I noted that the production’s music was an interesting oeuvre, spanning decades and genres — but there was one song that I liked most of all, a jazz standard written in 1939 called “A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square.”  About a magical night spent falling in love, this song has been sung by many, but the version I prefer — and the version used in Sleep No More — is by the Glenn Miller Orchestra.

Isn’t it just gorgeous…?

While I was familiar with a number of Glenn Miller Orchestra classics — Chattanooga Choo Choo, In the Mood, Moonlight Serenade, among others — I realized I actually did not know all that much about Glenn Miller himself, and upon a quick LIFE Archive search (which has been down for ages, praise Google for finally fixing the bug!), I turned up a batch of great photos of the band leader and band performing for US troops in Connecticut in 1943.

Between the years of 1939 and 1942, the Glenn Miller Orchestra had 70 — count ’em, seven-zero — top ten hits.  The Orchestra also had its own CBS radio show and appeared in feature films.  Most amazing though, was to find out that in 1942, at the height of popularity, Glenn Miller disbanded the Orchestra so that he could serve his country — musically, of course — in World War II.  Too old to be drafted, Miller joined the US Army Air Force, conducted and modernized army bands and eventually formed the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band.  On December 15, 1944 Miller boarded a Paris-bound plane in order to make performance arrangements for the band.  Tragically, Miller’s plane disappeared somewhere over the English Channel and was never found.

Miller’s story was made into a film in 1954, starring James Stewart.

Ladies watching “The Glenn Miller Story” in the theatre, 1954.

New to Glenn Miller?  This album has all the classics — a great starter.

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