Saturday, October 14, 2006

Book Link: Rupert Hughes on Eating in New York, 1904

The other day I was fishing around Google Books, looking for free goodies. I wanted to see what I could find on dining in old New York, so I did a search on Luchow's, the legendary 19th-Century German restaurant that I had visited in its final days, in the 1970s, for a Christmas goose dinner (back when 14th Street was still in its long period of decline). The search led me to a 1904 book called The Real New York, by Rupert Hughes. The name sounded familiar, but I didn't really know who Hughes was. Further research revealed that he was a renaissance man who has been relegated to the status of a footnote to American cultural history. He also happened to have been an uncle of Howard Hughes.

Rupert Hughes (1872-1956) was a historian, novelist, playwright, film director and screen writer. His three-volume biography of George Washington was noted for its non-hagiographic approach. He also wrote popular, scholarly and reference works about classical music (including The Love Affairs of Great Musicians). Incredibly prolific, he published over 60 books and was involved in over 50 films as director or writer. He wrote in an endearing, breezy, witty, conversational style.

I was pleased to learn that Hughes was a fellow antireligionist. In 1924 he published the controversial article, "Why I Quit Going to Church."

The Real New York is a hybrid work, a guide to the New York of 1904 in the form of a novel. The simple premise that frames the book is that Gerald De Peyster, a native New Yorker, meets several travelers on a train to the city and undertakes to show them the real New York while carrying on a flirtation with the pretty young woman from San Francisco. Chapter XIV surveys New York dining. If you're interested in the New York restaurant scene of 100 years ago, do take a look.

Link: The Real New York, Chapter XIV


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