Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Touch of Paris in Old New York

In the mid 1870's, it was described as a pleasure to leisurely explore New York's French Quarter, or the Quartier Francais, which sprawled west of Broadway, south of Washington Square, and north of Grand Street. Bleeker, Houston, Prince, Mercer, and Spring Streets are contained within this ethnic area. The inhabitants, about 24,000 in number, were French emigrants, the majority of whom were transient residents of NY. Hence, more than half spoke no English. An industrious group, they established small shops, cafes, and restaurants. At the latter, a tasty meal could be had at a very low price.

On Bleeker Street once stood the Restaurant du Grand Vatel, named after a famous cook or steward in Louis the Fourteenth's court. His dinners were celebrated for their excellence. Apparently, one order of fish looked like it was failing to arrive in time for the evening's banquet. Feeling his failure deeply and keenly, Vatel ended his life by propping up his sword against the door of his room and falling into it. Ironically, the fish arrived soon therafter. Today, his anxiety and depression would have been treated with medications. But then, there would have been no Grand Vatel at all!

Source: Rideing, William H. "The French Quarter of New York." Scribner's Monthly, 19:1-9, November, 1879.

Illustration from same article, page 4.

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