Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Planter's House Ladies Restaurant

The Planter's House (1841-1887)
The Planter's House Ladies Restaurant

Location: Fourth and Pine, St. Louis, Missouri, USA

Opened: Hotel opened in March 1841

Closed: Hotel severely damaged by fire in 1887 and closed. Demolished in 1891 and rebuilt on the same site.

In an 1885 publication including St. Louis business cards, we find the following advertisement:

Is undoubtedly the Planters' House Ladies Restaurant. The MESSRS. GERARDI, Proprietors of the Planters' House, have taken special pride in furnishing it. It is exclusively for ladies, or ladies and their escorts. Ladies when alone feel entirely "at home" here, as they, perhaps, do not at any other restaurant in the city, and when on shopping tours from the suburbs find this a most desirable place. Try our strawberry shortcake and other delicacies.

Here we see a lot of common themes with women's spaces that bear mentioning.

First, is that the space is under the proprietorship (control) of men, not women. Women's spaces that are under the ownership, control, and/or management of women are a comparative historical rarity.

Second, this is not "exclusively" a women's space but is basically "coed"--this despite the name and the (deliberately) confusing use of the word "exclusively." How often do we see similar gas lighting and obfuscation around so-called women's spaces to this day?

This is in contrast to the hotel bar and other dining areas which were most likely reserved exclusively for men.

As we see again and again, the "ladies restaurant" is not just for ladies. It is (presumably) for ladies and their escorts, though we have also seen many examples where men who were not in the company of ladies tried to crash the place (see this example from Boston). Or men who seemed to somehow manage to dominate the "ladies café" anyway despite the so-called restrictions (see this complaint from a New York City lady and this analysis of a Chicago hotel ladies café.) Again, we see echoes of this in customer reviews for "lesbian bars" where reviewers note more men than women present.

And third, notice the subtle acknowledgement of how women, especially women alone, are threatened by men in public spaces including eating and drinking establishments. Though the emphasis is shifted away from women's realistic perception of danger to one of psychology (i.e. of "feeling" comfortable or "at home" here--as if this were a familiar women's domestic space, and not the men's public realm.)

Still, I'd love to sample the strawberry shortcake....Just for fun, here is one of the first recorded recipes for what we would call strawberry shortcake today. It was published by "Miss Leslie" in 1847--one of history's many forgotten women cooks.

In this history of the Planter's House (or Planter's Hotel), we're told that the hotel built after the 1887 fire also included a ladies dining room:

The main restaurant was considered the most elegant room in the city. It had many Doric columns and was decorated in tones of Empire green and silver. The hotel offered other elegant public rooms — the ladies' dining room, a sumptuous Moorish room, and various meeting and banquet rooms were much admired.

This last hotel closed in 1922.

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