Jay Fox's Dining Guide
The 1908 Democratic National Convention
It was one hundred years ago that the Democratic National Convention was last held here. Some facts you may not remember about that momentous year, but that are certainly vivid in my memory. I was just a mere tyke back then.
It was a leap year. The Grand Canyon was designated a national monument. The giant ball announcing the New Year at New York’s Time Square was used for the first time. And an ironic turn of events in 100 years; New York City passed a law making it illegal for women to smoke in public. Alas, the mayor vetoed the law. The Harvard Business School was established. Mother’s Day was observed for the first time. Some suckas found oil in the Middle East for the first time. Lemme tellya, if my ancestors would have turned right about 20 miles instead of turning left, I would own a big chunk of that oil. And G still could spend it all.
Also in 1908, a fella named Robert Perry set sail for the North Pole. The reports don’t say if he made it, but off he went. The FBI was founded that year. No, J. Edgar Hoover was not running the show yet. He was 13 years old, and the villainous Al Capone was only 9. You know, in spite of all them shootin’s and hangin’s and stabbin’s and charges of racketeering, Capone went to prison for income tax evasion. Couldn’t show where he got all his dough. Which just goes to show that old proverb is true: you can do whatever to whomever but if you don’t pay your taxes, you gonna go to jail. Anyone out there need a good tax man? You got my number. I have NO clients currently behind bars.
Also in 1908, Henry Ford produced his first Model T. The Church of the Nazarene was founded. The Chicago Cubs beat the Detroit Tigers in the World Series in five games. And that was the last time the Cubs won the World Series. Red Barber was born. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were allegedly killed in Bolivia. The first credit union was founded in the United States in Manchester, New Hampshire. And G’s grandmother, The Cuda’s mother, Grandma Sarah was born. Y’all know The Cuda, first name Bara?
And, on the political scene, Big Doings. In Denver, the Democrats came to town. The women’s suffrage movement started in Great Britain. Ontario passed a child labor law. Coal miners in New Zealand went on strike for 11 weeks. Japanese immigration to the U.S. was forbidden. Abd-al-Aziz IV, the sultan of Morocco was deposed and his brother, Abd-al-Hafiz succeeded him. And the Democrats came to Denver.
William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska was hanging around waiting for my hero, Clarence Darrow to kick his ass in the Scopes Monkey Trial. But since he had to wait 17 years, he thought he might as well run for president of the United States. After all, he had been defeated twice previously by William McKinley. Maybe he figured the third time was the charm. Unfortunately, a bunch of other Democrats thought it was a good idea and nominated him again. Only to have his ass kicked royally by William Howard Taft of Ohio. I don’t know what it was back then about all these guys having to have three names; probably sucked their thumbs til they were in their late teens. If you were to look at the map, you could see the dividing line between the Taft supporters and the Bryan supporters, right across the middle of the United States, save for Colorado and Nevada voting Democratic, along with Bryan’s home state of Nebraska. It’s interesting to note that Bryan didn’t even come to Denver, as was the tradition in those days. Now the candidate is going to accept the nomination on a football field in front of 75,000 folks who will stand around in the hot August sun all day waiting and waiting and waiting to witness this historic event. Sure hope the beer and hot dog vendors are out in force.
But none of this matters. What you should ask is, were there any great restaurants in Denver back 100 years ago? What was the food like in those days? Who where the great chefs of the time and what happened to them? All that and more is coming atcha.
The crowd that descended on the Queen City of the Plains was immense. No one expected such a crowd. The press reported that there was hardly any food left and, “Stewed prunes with salted mackerel on the side was all that was left by the third day.”
As for dining out, the 1908 Colorado State Directory listed only eight restaurants:
• Anderson W.R. at 1726 California Street
Notably absent from this list were both the Buckhorn Exchange and the restaurants in the Brown Palace Hotel. But in the city of Pueblo there were 41 restaurants, six each in Lamar and La Junta, 20 in Colorado Springs (those Republicans always did have more money and supported the good life) and nine in Boulder. There were at least a dozen cities I never heard of, presumably long gone and annexed by Lakewood. Ever been to Anaconda or Arrow, Colorado? There were 10 restaurants in each. I’m guessing that many of these were something akin to bed and breakfasts. Ray Kroc was 6 years old, planning his first Big Mac Attack. Only 46 years to wait.
Y’all know that the Buckhorn Exchange was going strong at 1000 Osage Street, just as it is today. That (still) great eatery opened in 1893 as The Rio Grande Exchange and Buckhorn Pioneer Lodge, altho folks referred to it as Zeitz’s Buckhorn Lodge. Most locals know the Buckhorn received and still holds Denver Liquor License #1, but you probably don’t know that it didn’t receive that license ‘til after Prohibition ended in 1933. Yep, served all that booze for 40 years before getting a license. I hope y’all are going to stop in some time during your visit here and try some of their famous Rocky Mountain Oysters. That’s some real swingin’ meat.
The Brown Palace Hotel was a hopping place. Many of the dignitaries of the day stayed there, along with the Democratic National Committee, there were senators and congressmen as well as just plain ole rich dignitaries from across the country. Even Alton Parker, the 1904 presidential candidate stayed there, in room 318. Right there. In Room 318. A bunch of folks from the Democratic Party “machine” in New York, known as Tammany Hall stayed here. Even the closing banquet was held at “The Brown.” Someone suggested that Armel Santens, the managing director, was running the place back then, but I don’t believe that. But I don’t know that for a fact.
By the by, The Brown is serving special menu items including Barack Obama’s Potluck Turkey Chili, made from a recipe that he stole, uhh, I mean he’s been perfecting since he was in college. Turkey chili, eh? If the stuff has beans in it, I ain’t going near it. I Don’t Do beans. Not baked beans, Boston beans, Lima beans, fried beans, refried beans, tuna beans, not any of it. But hey, if you’re into it, stop by and check out the Ship Tavern at the Brown. If not the beans, they have The Best prime rib sangie in the world.
I found a menu from Earl’s Family Restaurant from 1912. Among the items listed were:
• Oak Plank broiled hamburger steak and grilled onions; $2.50
While there are few reports of restaurants and even fewer copies of menus that far back, I can tellya what people ate. Mexican food was big even back then, altho most recipes called for Gouda cheese rather than Mexican cheese. The latter wasn’t available in markets back then. Tamales were in many recipe books, but they were baked. As was Manila style fish. Red snapper seemed to be the fish of choice. I found recipes for boiled fish and all sortsa weird stuff, the sicko kinda food that you wouldn’t be caught dead eating today.
If you had bacon fat and/or butter, flour and/or cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pepper, water and/or milk, maybe an egg or two, you could make darn near anything from soups to breads to biscuits to five-course dinners. Might have to toss in the neighbor’s toe to complete the recipe, but you could rock and roll in the kitchen. Then the recipe would suggest that you “add some onion to improve the flavor.” Wow, don’t that just make you want to run out and get a giant roll of Charmin® Ultra?
Here’s muh fav recipe: To Cook Trout in the Forest:
“First, catch your trout.” Reminds me of the first thing I ever got mail-order. It was a television stand from Panasonic. I knew there would be something in the box to tell me how to assemble this stand. I found the instructions to be really specific. “Open the box.” Sure glad they told me.
I was gonna share a recipe for Venison and Chipped Beef in Cream recipe, noting that it calls for lotsa bacon fat, but I think I’d just as soon have a Milky Way bar.
I suggested a list of questions earlier. The one that I haven’t answered is, who the great chefs of the time were and what happened to them? Well, there were no great chefs, and if there were any, they’re all dead now.
You can send your dining tips to food guy Jay at firstname.lastname@example.org.