Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ladies Cafe, Tom Jones Restaurant

Ladies Cafe, Tom Jones Restaurant (1907)
Ladies Cafe, Tom Jones Restaurant

Location: 175 & 177 Jackson Boulevard/119 &120 Quincy Street, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Opened/Closed: Early 1900s

Before the late 19th/early 20th century, "mixed dining" sometimes occurred, but it was sporadic and uncommon. Before it became "fashionable" for men and women to be seen dining out in public together, they dined out in privately designated areas. In places like New York, Paris, and London, fine restaurants and hotels established separate dining rooms for the ladies. Tea rooms, ice cream parlors, and department store restaurants catered exclusively to female clientele.

However, it's important to realize that these "womyn's spaces" largely developed in reaction to women being excluded from "male" establishments. As William Grimes has stated in Appetite History: A Culinary History of New York (2009),

To a great extent, public dining was segregated by sex, either explicitly or implicitly. Unescorted women were not admitted to most hotel dining rooms and fine restaurants, and, by preference, they did not venture into masculine haunts like the downtown lunch rooms and oyster saloons.

"American Princess" advertisement
It appears this culinary practice of segregating the sexes was also alive and well in the American midwest, as is illustrated by this postcard from the Ladies cafe at the Tom Jones Restaurant in Chicago, which dates to 1907.

I haven't found too many accounts describing the Tom Jones Restaurant, but it appears to have been a very fine dining establishment that, yes, largely catered to well-heeled men. For example, there is this reference to a 1908 meeting held at the Tom Jones Restaurant:

One of the happiest of events of the many good times at the Chicago meeting of the American Medical Association was a reunion of the medical men who had studied at Vienna. This occurred on the evening of June 5, and was held at the Tom Jones' restaurant. Fifty-three men met in an informal way, and an elegant repast was had. By means of a magic lantern a number of views of Vienna were thrown on the screen, which brought back memories tender and otherwise. Before parting an organization was perfected, merely enough to hold them together.  

So how and why did this practice of segregated public dining disappear? Again, according to William Grimes:

Women, increasingly part of the labor force in large cities, were slowly asserting their rights, and the pressures of a modern economy were breaking down old barriers segregating the sexes. These were formidable...With the new century moving briskly along, women still could not go into a bar...If they entered a restaurant without a male escort, they were directed to the ladies' cafe, if one existed, or to a lunchroom specifically designated for women. All this was about to change. When the Cafe Martin announced that women would be allowed to eat in the main dining room, it read the future correctly. The old rules were up for revision.

Postcards: Ladies Cafe interior from 1907; "American Princess" advertisement for Tom Jones Restaurant


  1. Have post cards from restaurant 1908: woman's cafe, men's dining room , grill room,log cabin in grill room

  2. So many restaurants are having to raise their prices these days in order to make ends meet, so eating out has become much more expensive that it used to once be.

    Chicago Restaurants


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