Public Appetite: Dining Out in Nineteenth-Century Boston Open Access

Erby, Kelly (2010)

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Public Appetite: Dining Out in Nineteenth-Century Boston
By Kelly Erby

This dissertation explains why and how Bostonians began to eat away from home in commercial dining venues in the 1800s, and provides new insight into the formation of complicated gender, race, ethnic, and class identities in urban America during this period. The nineteenth century witnessed a change in dining habits that was swift and dramatic. Throughout the colonial period and into the early nineteenth century, Americans rarely dined commercially. Then in the late 1820s and 1830s, the processes of industrialization and urbanization, the steady encroachment of the market economy, and, by the 1840s and 1850s, the growing number of immigrants all combined to transform the texture of everyday existence in American cities of the northeast like Boston. As living and working conditions changed, eating meals outside the home became an essential activity for many urbanites. From the eating-houses lining Washington Street that dished up hash at mid-day to hungry Irish laborers to the restaurants specializing in French cuisine and patronized by the elite, Bostonians had a new set of options about where to dine.

The general trend toward increased commercial dining was not distinctive to Boston. On the contrary, the range of dining venues that opened there in the 1800s is illustrative of an American dining landscape that endures even until today. This exploration of dining out in Boston thus lays bare a significant but relatively under-investigated form of space in nineteenth-century America: zones that functioned both as workplaces and retail arenas; and zones that were at once semipublic in the sense of being less than private and yet were also clearly bounded. Above all, this investigation uses commercial eating to illuminate the way American society participated in growing overall consumption and commercialization and yet, simultaneously, demonstrated greater segmentation. This dissertation tells the story of how many different kinds of Americans turned toward restaurants and how dining out reflected and expressed--indeed, defined and affirmed--the differences among them. When Bostonians began to dine out, they also dined apart.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

I. From Tavern to Luxury Hotel: The Emergence of the Refined Public Table in Boston, 1

II. Dining Out in Boston in the Antebellum Period: a Panorama of Eateries, 49

III. Labor in the Antebellum Commercial Eating Business: the Work of Cooks and Waiters, 96

IV. The Public Table as a Road to Dissolution: Middle-Class Anxieties and Commercial Eateries in the
1850s and 1860s, 128

V. Foie Gras on Tremont Street and Chop Suey on Harrison Avenue: Commercial Dining as a Leisure Activity for the Elite and Working Classes after the Civil War, 155

VI. Finding a Seat:The Middle Class Embraces Nighttime Commercial Dining, 190

Epilogue, 215

Appendices, 218

A: Illustrations, 220

B: Maps, 230

C: Tables and Charts, 240

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