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Where Shall We Eat?

J.H. Ireland Oyster House at 632-8 Clark Street.
Published by American Colortype of Chicago & New York.

Patrons visiting J.H. Ireland Oyster House might eat in the marine dining room, the banquet room or the lobster grotto room, which like the vintage postcard of the restaurant shows a painting of a giant red lobster on the ceiling.

A description on the back of the Ireland postcard raves that the restaurant is the largest exclusive seafood restaurant in the United States. Now that’s an astonishing feat to consider when the closest ocean to Chicago is almost a thousand miles away.

But it was pretty common for postcards that promote restaurants at the time to declare they were the best. Postcard collectors often find humor in this. They also enjoy the images of the sleek old-fashioned restaurants. Some postcards also show images of people at the restaurants with interesting expressions and wearing clothing from the time.

The Palmer House Empire Room restaurant.
Published by Genuine Curteich of Chicago.

At the time of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, there were 600 restaurants in the city, with new ones opening up every day, according to the book Chicago by Day and Night: The Pleasure Seeker’s Guide to the Paris of America. The book indicates that there were restaurants of all grades back then, including a place where you could get a meal for 10 cents or have a full dining experience for a dollar. Some of the best restaurants in the city were located inside hotels, like the Empire Room restaurant in the Palmer House Hotel. The remainder of the restaurants were scattered around the city.

It wasn’t uncommon for restaurants at the time to provide dancing, musical performances and other types of shows. There were also at least three restaurants in 1893 that provided its customers private dining rooms. The rooms were converted from small apartments to eating areas.

By far the most popular dishes at the time were meat-based meals. Many postcards describe serving chops, steaks, seafood and even wild game like deer venison. Math Igler’s Casino restaurant on Melrose St. served German cuisine. The restaurant was also the home to singing waiters, and an image on the postcard shows them dressed in German entire.

The last postcard displayed on this blog is the New Forum Cafeteria at 60 W. Madison St. According to the description on the back of the postcard, the New Forum is “one of the most beautiful cafeterias in America.” The descriptions adds, “Dine in an atmosphere of salon luxury at reasonable prices.” The only other thing I wonder is if this cafeteria served tater tots.

Math Igler's Casino restaurant on Melrose St.
Published by Genuine Curteich of Chicago.

New Forum Cafeteria, 64 W. Madison St.
Published by Genuine Curteich of Chicago


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