Friday, November 18, 2011

Ladies Cafe, Hotel McAlpin

Ladies Cafe, Hotel McAlpin (1913)
Ladies Cafe, Hotel McAlpin

Location: 34th Street and Broadway (Herald Square), New York, New York, USA

Opened: 1912

Closed: Closing date of Ladies Cafe unknown; McAlpin family sold the hotel in 1938. In 2001, building converted to condominiums.

I say it's tea time! (It's got to be tea time some place, yes?) So let's pop over to the Hotel McAlpin's Ladies Cafe for refreshments.

The Hotel McAlpin was designed by the noted architect Frank Mills Andrews (1867-1948), and was the largest hotel in the world at the time of its completion. Like many high-end hotels of that era, it also included a ladies cafe, where the ladies might sup or enjoy a spot of tea without a male escort in tow. Regarding the design of the Ladies Cafe, this is what one trade journal of the time solemnly declared:

The restaurant is done in natural oak and gold with mirrored walls of the period of Louis Seize. The ornamentation of the ceiling is an adaption from the decoration of one of the royal palaces in Milan executed by Albertolli, 1787.

What makes this hotel particularly interesting is that it had a floor reserved exclusively for women guests. As the New York Times explained in December 1912,

The McAlpin has many features peculiar to it among hotels. For one thing, there is a woman's floor to which no men are admitted, and where even the clerks are women. Unattended women need not go to the main desk to register.  

What that meant was that ladies could bypass the lobby and check in directly at their own floor--a very nice amenity. 

A 1913 trade journal had this to say (after gushing on about the men's or "club" floor--but more about that later):

1920 ad for Hotel McAlpin, Wellesley Alumnae Quarterly
The needs of the ladies have not been overlooked by any means, the "Women's Club" floor, supplying accomodations for women travelling without escorts, together with shopping guides and chaperones. Supplementing the "Women's Club" is the Ladies Cafe, where gentlemen are allowed only when acting as escorts.   

The women's floor was around at least as late as 1920, as it was advertised in Wellesley Alumnae Quarterly Magazine: "Hotel McAlpin offers you a home comfortable in every detail. For unaccompanied women the entire sixth floor is reserved."

Now we turn to the Hotel McAlpin facilities for the gentlemen. This is what the Times said (in the aforementioned article):

The twenty-second floor is devoted to men exclusively, and here all the attendants are men. The floor is provided with a general lounge or clubroom, equipped with card tables and a bar.

Well, it turns out that the offerings were a little more deluxe than the Times let on. From the 1913 trade journal:

The twenty-second floor of the hotel is set aside for the exclusive use of men, and is known as the "men's" (or "Club") floor. Connected with this, by a special stairway, are Turkish and Russian baths, located on the floor immediately above, and the male guests' interests are further taken care of by another novelty situated on the "Second Mezzanine" which is the "Men's Lounge"--a long gallery fitted up in the manner of a sumptuous clubroom with easy chairs, library, smokers' necessities, bar, stock ticker and public stenographer.

A 1916 tourists guide to New York also mentions the Hotel McAlpin's "Men's Cafe and Bar on Broadway" in addition to the "Ladies Cafe." Elsewhere we're told that the Men's Cafe was "designed in 15th Century Italian Gothic with walnut paneling and a vaulted ceiling."

Yeah, I know. Separate but not equal by any means. You were expecting otherwise?

You can console yourself by listening to this 1925 recording by Ernie Golden and the Hotel McAlpin Orchestra. And do help yourself to another crumpet. More tea?

Interestingly enough, the idea of hotels offering women-only floors has made something of a comeback in recent years, but not without significant objections from both "gender neutral" feminists and men's rights activists.

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