Quick Lunch Room Terms (July 1902)

Bapopik at AOL.COM Bapopik at AOL.COM
Sun Jun 3 00:36:37 UTC 2001

   POOLE'S PLUS is a database I've been using recently, checking for "restaurant" and "cookery" and "food."  The two newspapers it has (citations only) are the New York Times and the New York Tribune.
   From the NEW YORK TRIBUNE, section II, 27 July 1902, pg. 2, col. 6:

  "To you, the uninitiated, these ---"
   When the great majority of the quick lunch room propreitors of New-York agreed last week to raise the price of "beef an'," also of "ham an'," from 10 to 15 cents, and their momentous decision was duly, if somewhat jocularly, recorded in the papers, the surprising fact developed that there are actually to be found men and women in this city who do not know that "beef an'" is.
   "Beef and what?" asked a downtown business man, as he read his paper going home on the L.
   "Well, you don't know beans, for a fact," his companion laughed.
   "That's it, eh?" said the first.  "But how should I know whether it was beans or cabbage?  I never go to that sort of a place to eat."
   And there are thousands more like this man, who never went to "that sort of place" to eat, or have carefully forgotten that they ever had to.  How "the other half" eats is unknown to them.  They enter a cafe where the linen is lieberal and snowy, give their order confidentially to a silent waiter, and by and by their food comes to them, under cover.  There is something private, even intimate, about the whole process, however crowded the cafe.  They do not know the strange sensation--strange at first--of having one's order "bellowed through the hall," of drinking coffee out of handleless cups so thick they stretch the mouth to rim them; and, greatest loss of all, they do not know the curious system of abbreviation that prevails in such places, abbreviations that are often metaphors in the rough, and of which "ham an'" is only a faint suggestion.
   If you are new to this style of a lunch room, you enter, sit down at a bare and not too clean table and wait quietly to be served.  You are likely to wait some time, but while you wait you hear a bare armed waiter roar down a passage, "Sind up the goat."  That's easy.  You know he wants more butter.  Then he cries, "Beef an'" and you know that.  "Plate o' Bostons" isn't hard, either.  But "Make it two, sunny side up" is a staggerer.  However, the solution is simple--two eggs fried on one side only.
   Finally, you get tired of waiting, and by pounding a glass with a spoon and sundry gesticulations you get a waiter to come to you.  "Give me some poached eggs on toast," you say, "and a cup of coffee."
   The waiter turns toward the kitchen and shouts, "Noah on a raft!"  Then he wheels toward the steaming, polished coffee tanks and cries, "Draw one!"
   "Say," you call, with an afterthought, "I guess I'll make than scrambled eggs on toast."
   "Wreck Noah," calls the waiter solemnly.
   The strange thing may well seem to be that you get what you ordered.
   There are many such phrases, some of them common to all the "grub-on-the-run" places, some of them local.
   "A little on the cow" is milk.  "Draw one--black" is coffee, without milk.  "One up" is not golf, but a symbol, meaning that the waiter who calls has another cup of coffee coming to him.  "Off the griddle" means butter cakes, those deadly bullets of, rather, small cannon balls of dough, which are commonly known to the hardy eaters thereof as "sinkers," but which it is high treason to call by that name within the lunch room.
   "Put up the flag" means macaroni, just why, no one seems able to explain, though there is vaguely felt to be some subtle reference to Yankee Doodle and the Stars and Stripes.  "Brown the wheats" means simply an order of buckwheat pancakes, while "two in three" signifies that somebody wants two eggs boiled three minutes.  "Red, white and blue" is a plate of mixed ice cream.
   The crown of the collection, however, is to be found on the Bowery, where there is much poetry in the block, anyway.  There, if you should happen to have the sort of taste that demands mince pie with powdered sugar on top, you will hear shouted to the rear:  "One indigestion in a snowstorm!"
   One cannot well object that there is more truth than beauty in such a phrase, for it has been stated on eminent authority that truth is beauty.  So one cannot shun these lunch rooms logically on aesthetic grounds.  If you demand your coffee in a thin cup with a handle, "coffee in the shell," as the waiter scornfully orders, you will be snubbed as a dude.  But if you accept conditions as you find them, you will get food that is at least "filling," as they say in New-England, and you will undoubtedly save money.  Many a good man, indeed, has eaten there, not because he had to, nor because he thought he had to, but because he liked to.  The penning of many a criticism of the Niebelingenlied, bristling with the vocabulary of eastheticism, has been followed by a plate of "beef an'," and the phrases of culture, ping pong wise, have been tossed back and forth over the grease-polished tables.  And surely it is better to wreck Noah when his son is so near, to render filial service.

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