Saturday, August 8, 2020

Chez Mouquin

 

CHEZ MOUQUIN

Bustling activity percolated through four floors of the Fulton Street restaurant. Long before there was an Algonquin Club with its round table or vicious circle, famous writers, newspapermen, politicians and Wall Street tycoons lunched at Mouquin's. Charles A. Dana of The Sun lunched frugally on Swiss cheese, brown bread and red wine. Horace Greeley of The Tribune cared so little what he ate that he left the choice to the waiter while he made jokes with the men in the bar at the back, near the Ann Street entrance. James Gordon Bennett of The Harold sent his son, the younger James Gordon Bennett to pick up his roast beef. Madame Mouquin called him "Jimmy" as he would climb up the stairs to the kitchen to see how his father's order was coming.

According to Benjamin de Casseres, William Cullen Bryant, Henry Ward Beecher, Cardinal McCloskey, Whitelaw Reid, Amos J. Cummings, John Hay, Chester A. Arthur, General Grant, Larry Godkin, Walt Whitman, O'Henry, Jack London; almost everybody who was anybody hung out at Mouquin's at various times. O'Henry sketched many a plot on the tablecloths.

A beautiful redhead strolled in to the restaurant on Fulton Street at the height of the gilded age in 1892. Jeanne Louise Berlet Ami was 27 years old. She carried a letter of introduction from her father, M. Berlet, who lived in the Alsace part of France. Her father may have operated a pension (hotel and restaurant) in Konigsberg, near Harincourt, France. At any rate, her father was an acquaintance of Henri's. Henri's 25-year-old son, Henri F., greeted her and it was love at first sight. The younger Henri introduced her to his father and she was immediately invited to return later and join the family for dinner upstairs.

Jeanne Louise was an accomplished woman. She grew up in the Alsace Lorraine area during a period when the border between Germany and France varied from year to year. Sometimes she went to school to learn German. Other times, the official language would be French. Fluent in both French and German, she also taught piano. At the time of their first meeting, Jeanne Louise had come from Ottawa, where she had been employed as the governess to the children of Lord and Lady Stanley.

As romance blossomed with the young Henri; the problem unfolded that Jeanne Louise was already married to a Monsieur Ami and had two daughters: Laura and Blanche. Not to worry, the young Henri was so in love that he arranged to have Jeanne Louise take up residence in Fargo, North Dakota for the three months required to get a divorce. Fargo, North Dakota must have been very cold in February of 1893. Jeanne Louise busied teaching piano, reading and writing letters, and embroidering her linens. The happy couple reunited in June, promptly married, and set up housekeeping in Hoboken, New Jersey. Henri quickly adopted both Blanche and Laura. Their only son, Henri Mouquin, was born, November 22, 1897. Shortly after the birth of Henri, Jeanne Louise's young daughter Laura passed away, presumably of tuberculosis; as she had been cared for in a sanatorium in East Las Vegas, New Mexico.

In 1898, the elder Henri (now 61) decided his 31-year-old son Henri F. had learned enough of the restaurant business to manage a new establishment at Sixth Avenue and 28th Street in the theatre district then known as the Tenderloin. Although he named the new restaurant the Caf� Bordeaux; everyone referred to it as simply Mouquin's Uptown. The new restaurant boasted a mirror and marble Parisian style caf� on the main floor and large dining rooms upstairs. Music was offered on Friday nights.

Benjamin de Casseres related the following story about Mouquin's Uptown:

"At the south side of the caf� was a table which for years was consecrated to a group of writers and artists; men of the long bow and topsy turvy anecdotes, of heavy scabrous wit mixed with the blood of the muse." The table was occupied by John Flanagan; sculptor, Paul Bartlett, sculptor; Ernest Lawson, Painter; Fredrick James Gregg, editor of the old Evening Sun; Jo Davidson, sculptor; Homer Davenport, cartoonist; and Robert Henri, painter. These men held the table everyday at lunch and every evening from 6 o'clock on. If the seats were pre-empted, they were ordered clear by Paul Bartlett."

As the restaurant gained notoriety, Henri and his wife Jeanne Louise sought peace further in the country. They moved from a townhouse in Hoboken to a chicken farm in Nanuet, New York. The farm supplied fresh eggs and chickens to the restaurants. A scandal erupted in the newspapers in November of 1900. Madame Jeanne Louise Mouquin was reportedly having an affair with the manager of the chicken farm, a Monsieur Leon L. Chevanney on nights when her husband sent word that he would be working late in the restaurant. One night he surprised them, and Monsieur Chevanney was forced to jump from a second story window to make his escape. In retaliation, Madame Mouquin leaked another scandal to the newspapers. Her husband had had an affair with the maid while they were living in Hoboken. At the time of her unwanted pregnancy, the maid blamed the coachman. Later, after the baby was born dead, the maid confessed to her mistress that Monsieur Mouquin had fathered the child.

Newspaper articles indicated that there would be a divorce. In April of 1901, the papers declared that the marriage had been annulled because the courts ruled that Jeanne Louise's Fargo, North Dakota divorce was invalid. The newspapers declared that the couple remained "on friendly terms." Somehow, they managed to stay together.

In 1902, Henri bought a 2nd Empire Victorian house with an impressive porte de carchaire and a fifth floor tower room. They had admired the house from the train until one day Henri learned that it was for sale. The house had been vacant since the late 1880's and was in need of serious renovation. He secretly bought the house for $2500. as a surprise for Jeanne Louise. When Henri brought her to visit the house, she found the ice was so thick on the kitchen floor in the basement that she could skate on it. "Let's not buy this house," she declared. "It's a wreck." Henri had already bought the house, so they added new plumbing, heating, and electricity, and lived happily ever after.

The house, located on Rockland Road in Sparkill, New York has remained in the family for 100 years and four generations. The family raised rabbits to supply the Mouquin restaurants.

Both Mouquin restaurants continued to be frequented by realist painters, some who got their start as newspaper and magazine illustrators. The French atmosphere and gaiety reminded them of the student days they spent in Paris. These included members of the Ashcan School: Robert Henri, Sloan, William Glackens, George Luks, Everett Shinn and Henri's student George Bellows. An artist's group that called themselves The Eight allegedly plotted its famous revolution against the National Academy of Design at Mouquin's in 1908. Everett Shinn made a pastel of the outside of the uptown restaurant on a cold, wintry day in 1904. The pastel is currently owned by the Newark Museum.

In 1905, William Glackens painted Chez Mouquin inside the Parisian style cafe of the uptown restaurant. The attractive redhead in the painting appears to be none other than Jeanne Louise Mouquin, seated politely with another restaurant owner, James B. Moore of the Cafe Francis. Glackens captured her expression of slight boredom while she waits patiently for her husband to close up and go home. The mustached James B. Moore closely resembles her husband Henri. No doubt, Henri was too busy managing the restaurant to sit for the portrait himself. Glackens may have started the painting using Moore as a stand in for Mouquin, intending to finalize the painting with Henri. As Henri refused to sit down, Glackens continued to paint Moore with Mouquin's wife; thinking it great fun to have a rival restaurant owner seated with Jeanne Louise. The painting hints at the Mouquin marriage scandal that hit the newspapers in 1900. James Moore had a reputation for squiring beautiful young girls and always referred to them as "his daughters." Needless to say, the Mouquin's were not interested in buying the painting. The Chicago Art Institute currently owns the painting.


No comments:

Post a Comment