Meals at the Montauk Manor, 1940s
Manor staff carry buffet trays, 1940s
Manor dining room, circa 1940s
Two black and white photographs depicting the splendor of meals at the Montauk Manor in the 1940s, and the enthusiasm of diners at the time.
Al Holden and Richard T. Gilmartin Collections
Montauk Library Archives
In case you weren’t overstuffed at Thanksgiving, the staff members at the Montauk Manor are here to serve with their groaning trays – or they were in the 1940s, when the top photo from the Montauk Library’s Al Holden Collection was taken. The second, from the Richard T. Gilmartin Collection and shot in the same decade (if not the same day), suggests a ton of hungry diners.
It’s not clear what was on the menu for these meals, but the New York Public Library has a sample from the Montauk Manor from July 4, 1940, in its menus collection (http://menus.nypl.org/). It may have been for brunch or lunch that day.
Among the offerings were chilled tomato juice, jellied consommé, turtle soup, filet mignon, sea trout, broiled chicken, and “cold gallantine of capon garni.” What’s kind of interesting is that advertisements for the Montauk Manor and other local establishments from the era in local newspapers emphasize entertainment more than fine dining – cocktails on the terrace, bridge teas, dancing to live music – the fare on its own didn’t seem to be the main attraction as it might be for today’s gastronomes.
For Montauk locals who grew up during the Montauk Manor’s early heyday – it’s still a luxury resort, with a restaurant named, appropriately, for the hotel’s magnificent views, the Hilltop – it could be a jaw-dropping source of early impressions. The McDonald sisters recall in the Montauk Library’s oral histories how awed the girls who worked at the Manor were, perhaps as servers like the uniformed ladies in the top photo, at the level of grandeur.
There were some advertisements in the 1940s — during which World War II created far more profound upheavals than those in restaurant menus — for dining that was more specific than simply a “European” or a “Continental” option. One, for the more middle-class Whaler’s Inn in the Sag Harbor Express, lists Long Island clam chowder (“our specialty”), lobsters, steaks, chops, and seafood, and (on Wednesdays), the Whaler’s Inn Southern fried chicken, candied yams, and waffles.
Over all, the menus of locally sourced and vegan and gluten-free dishes appear to have been far on the horizon – even though, even then, there were just about as many print pitches for real estate, spa and grooming treatments, yachting, fishing, tennis, water sports, and socializing with high-profile personalities as there are today.
Fine dining was part of Carl Fisher’s grand plan, beginning in the 1920s at his Montauk Manor on a hilltop in Montauk, to lure wealthy cosmopolitan types to the far reaches of eastern Long Island. From the size of the crowd in the Richard Gilmartin photo, it seems to have worked as much then as it does now — no matter what the menu.