Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Onondaga Hotel Ladies Restaurant

from the Syracuse Herald, November 25, 1911
The Onondaga Hotel Ladies Restaurant

Location: East Jefferson Street, Syracuse, New York, USA

Opened: Hotel opened August 1910

Closed: Officially closed April 1969; torn down in 1970

Back in the early years of the twentieth century, the Onondaga was one of the more prestigious hotels in upstate New York. And as we see from an advertisement from 1911, it was very much an old boys' place.

In fact, this ad beautifully illustrates how marginalized the women's space tends to be in the greater scheme of things. Specifically, how minor and compromised the so-called "ladies restaurant" is in contrast to the male-only spaces of an upper-class hotel.

First observe the clubby, confidential tone of the ad narrative, and how it's very much man-to-man. And also how the space at this hotel is carefully framed as a facility catering to wealthy men and their personal and economic interests:

Said a banker: "Many times of a forenoon do I try to reach a business man in his office, and fail. How often, however, do I find him and others at the lunch hour at The Onondaga. The advantage that one enjoys additional to a good meal, in finding the people you want to meet is a convenience not to be underrated."

The Onondaga Hotel - Syracuse, New York
Men are apparently synonymous with "people" and vice versa. To continue:

That's it--Saves time--Promotes friendly intercourse with the very men you might otherwise seldom see. The hotel is a rendezvous of the business man, the the man of affairs and the man about town. It may well be styled "The Down Town Club." If you fail to find the man you want in the lobby or Men's Cafe--try the Ratskeller.

Notice the prominent mention of male-only space (the Men's Cafe). Though you can almost bet the Ratskeller was also exclusively male. And that "unescorted" ladies were not welcome in the lobby area either, especially if they had the temerity to "linger." This was standard modus operandi for a hotel of this era.

So far no sign of women anywhere in this text. But notice how the ladies are suddenly introduced into the discussion:

Or tonight he may be in the the ladies' restaurant with his wife--for she likes to come as well as he--this is not a hotel for men alone--it's


This is a theme we have seen many times before. The men's areas are strictly that--bonding areas for ambitious businessmen. 

But in addition the so-called ladies areas are also thoroughly colonized for the same purpose. Not only are the men apparently present in the (so-called) ladies cafe in abundance, the men seemingly can't help but project and insert the same old male-oriented agenda.

And yet we see this hotel called--in a totally faux interpretation of equality--a "headquarters for everybody." Obviously, this is nothing but horse patootie.

The evidence we see here of men taking over a women's space, and making it there own is a theme we have seen many times in the history of turn-of-the-century ladies restaurants, cafes, and dining rooms.

As early as 1885 we see a New York woman complaining about male domination within so-called ladies restaurants:

True, almost every respectable restaurant bears the sign "ladies' restaurant up stairs" but upon entering we find the room filled with men, and we meekly subside into whatever vacant space we are allotted, running the gauntlet thereto between the domineering, quizzical or supercilious eyes of the nabobs, who glare at us as if we had invaded their domain instead of they ours, and for all this we are allowed to pay double the price charged in a regular business man's eating house.

A previous post on the ladies' cafe at Chicago's Hotel Bismarck provides the visual evidence. The postcards illustrate that the men's space are strictly that. By contrast, men are to found at nearly every table in the ladies' cafe.

Needless to say, remnants of this attitude live on as women's shelters, bars, and other institutions are roundly denounced (or even threatened) for attempting to even restrict the presence of men. While male-only institutions are vigilantly defended and enforced as off-limits.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.