Charles Pfaff's obituary in the New York Times characterizes him as the proprietor of the famous Bohemian "chop house" at 647 Broadway that flourished between 1860 and 1875 ("In and About the City," 2). Born in Baden, Switzerland likely in 1819, Pfaff first arrived in New York in the early 1850s "part of a wave of German immigrants" (Blalock; Martin 18). According to scholar Justin Martin, "Herr Pfaff was a round little man with shaggy eyebrows and chubby fingers. His Old World manner and thickly accented English gave him a courtly and discreet air" (18). Prior to establishing Pfaff's, he had opened and operated two other watering-holes for five years ("In and About" 2). According to Mark Lause, "these moves kept him near his preferred clientele of theatrical managers, actors, actressess, and, particularly, the foreign-born musicians" (49).
In 1859, Charles Pfaff moved his business to its location at 647 Broadway (Blalock). The establishment, known simply as "Pfaff's," was hailed as the "favorite resort of all the prominent actors, authors, artists, musicians, newspaper men, and men-about-town of the time" that was decorated "in a plain, quaint fashion, with an estrade, but the service was clean and the cooking excellent, and it soon made a reputation that brought it hundreds of dollars' worth of daily custom" ("In and About" 2). It was known most for its beer, especially lager. As Martin argues, "Pfaff and his fellow German immigrants had revolutionized beer making in America" that "produced beers that were lighter than English-style stouts and ales" (18). Pfaff also served a diverse sampling of wine and food inspired by his European taste. Walt Whitman even once commented on Pfaff's expansive knowledge of wine saying that "Pfaff never made a mistake—he instinctively apprehended liquors—having his talent, and that talent in curious prolixity" (Blalock).
The everflowing supply of liquor and food, though, was more an added bonus for the Bohemian crowd who built a community here under the guidance of their king, Henry Clapp, with whom Pfaff had developed a relationship as a customer of his previous businesses as scholars such as Lause contend (47). Pfaff reserved a dedicated space within his bar for Clapp and his group of friends and gave Clapp a long table around which a sizeable group of people could gather. While other drinking establishments during this time were decidely gendered with features such as separate entrances for women, Pfaff embraced his female clientele, recognizing the opportunity to cater to women, especially those who became regulars among the Pfaffians such as Ada Clare (Martin 64). Martin contends that Pfaff was a "canny saloon keeper" who "recognized that catering to a group of regulars was simply good business." Over time, Clapp's coterie would become Pfaff's favorite customers, a sentiment that was reciprocated by them, as well (28). As Artist Elihu Vedder contends, Pfaff enjoyed the Bohemian circle's patronage beyond the revenue they brought to his establishment: "I really believe Pfaff himself loved the Boys. The time came when he retired to the country well off; but then the time also came when he returned and started another place further up-town. I saw him in his new place... He said he was well off, but that he could not stand the country; he had to do something; but then he said, 'It isn't the same thing; dere's no more boys left enny more.'" (226). An example of Pfaff's dedication to his Bohemian group is that he was was known for allowing "his odd customers to carry a tab, exercising a generosity that went beyond that of the canny businessman aware that 'his' bohemians drew others into his place" (Lause 49).
Pfaff also did not just provide the space for this group of Bohemians to meet, but he became part of the very spirit of their gatherings. According to Lause, Pfaff also was among the group of individuals that Henry Clapp gathered to try and restart the Saturday Press in August of 1865, which illustrates his dedication to the group (115). In May 1876, Pfaff moved his business to its final spot on 24th Street near Broadway where Walt Whitman visited him years later according to Vedder (pg #). This location and perhaps the clientele did not prove as remunerative as the old spot and, after losing money, Pfaff gave up the business entirely in 1887. The Times alleges that his death in 1890 was hastened by financial worries. Though he made "a great deal of money at the Broadway place, [he] . . . lent and spent it as freely as he made it" and had difficulty calling in the loans when he required funds (2). Remembered as a "model host" who "personally looked after the comfort of each of his guests," Pfaff served an irreplaceable role in the life of Clapp's Bohemians ("In and About" 2).
Whitman's description of Charles Pfaff in this article is as follows, "Pfaff himself I took a dislike to the first time I ever saw him. But my subsequent acquaintance with him taught me not to be too hasty in making up my mind about people on first sight. HE turned out to be a very agreeable, kindly man in many ways. He was always kind to beggars and gave them food freely. Then he was easily moved to sympathize with any one who was in trouble and was generous with his money. I believe he was at that time the best judge of wine of anybody in this country'."[pages:10]
Pfaff is referred to as "'Papa' Pfaff" in this obituary. His cause of death is attributed to "Acute gastritis."[pages:10]
Pfaff is described by Allen as a "German-Swiss" who, by 1854, had bulit a clientele of "writers, artists, and would-be Bohemians" at his restuarant. The restaurant was in a basement in the 1850s, with Pfaff tending bar and the dining room extending beneath the sidewalk and pavement of Broadway. According to Allen, the bar became famous for its wine and liquors, and Pfaff was regarded "by many of his admirers as the best judge of wine in New York, and his good food at reasonable prices became equally famous" (228). Allen continues, "Furthermore, the 'Bohemians' who gathered there created an atmposphere and acquired a somewhat scandalous reputation that attracted the curious, so that this was one of the busiest, noisiest, and most-sought-out by visitors to the city of any restaurant in New York (228-229).
In August 1881, Whitman visited New York and decided to breakfast at Pfaff's restaurant on Twenty-fourth Street. Pfaff was glad to see Whitman, and the two reminisced after "first opening a big fat bottle of the best wine in the cellar" over the "old times of 1859 and 1860 and the jovial suppers at that other Pfaff's on Broadway near Bleecker Street" (494).[pages:228-229,494]
Derby writes that for "many of the brigtest and most popular humorous men of the day" "the noonday hour frequently found most of them at Pfaff's celebrated German restaurant, in a Broadway basement, near Bleecker-street, the rendezvous at that day of the so-called Bohmians" (239).
Derby writes that after working for Shillaber at the Carpet Bag, Charles F. Browne ("Artemus Ward") met his old boss in New York, where Shillaber described him as "transformed into a city buck, associating with Henry Clapp in editing Vanity Fair, and dined at Pfaff's with Ada Clare and the Bohemians" (412).[pages:239,412]
Pfaff's bar is briefly mentioned in this historical novel about 1870s New York City as a place whose "raucous good humor" seems "callow" to the narrator (198).[pages:198]
Donaldson's source is Whitman - Specimen 188[pages:207]
English claims O'Brien, Clapp, and Arnold "used to laughingly class themselves as Bohemians, speak of Pfaff, his beer; but they spoke of no club" (202).
English states, "I have a notion that Pfaff's place was in a basement, a sort of underground eating-house and beer-room. I remember very well saying to one of these gentlemen, with a feeble attempt at pleasantry -- 'As there are so many buyers of beer among your people it is quite proper that you should have a cellar to receive you.' But as far as my personal knowledge goes, the place may have been in a garret" (202).[pages:202]
Epstein refers to him as "Charley" and states that Pfaff's opened just months after the publication of Leaves of Grass. Epstein also discusses Pfaff's new tavern on 24th St. that failed.[pages:53-54,310]
Figaro writes that "PFAFF HAS SOLD OUT" and has sold his bar to Messrs. Kruyt (5).[pages:5]
Figaro mentions that Pfaff is still alive and running his saloon. Figaro also mentions that Pfaff waits to welcome his old "habitues" and is sad to be separated from the old crowd (5).[pages:5]
A note following the Feuilleton discusses Pfaff's "improvement" through the addition of a garden. The landscaping was done by artists from a nearby theater. The note also mentions that someone has written on the wall, "C. Pfaff and die!" (9).[pages:9]
Ford describes Pfaff as a "German Swiss" who "knew how to keep and draw lager beer, then a novelty in this country, and also how to make peculiarly delicious pancakes." These two items became the "staple fare" of the Bohemians (1).[pages:1]
Pfaff is described as "a fat, cross looking German with one of the kindest hearts that ever beat in a human bosom. I do not know what his religion was, or is, whether he was an agnostic or whether he drew his inspiration for life in the monkey development idea, but those who knew him knew how kind and good he always was, especially to men of the literary calling. Too many of this class, utterly selfish and devoid of principle, took advantage of this trait and owed him for many a meal they were perfectly able to pay for. As for tramps and beggars his restaurant was the Mecca to which they paid visits persistently and regularly the year round. Some would receive a package of food, some simply a huge hunk of bread and many a coin."[pages:9]
Mentioned as being the proprietor of one of the "popular resorts" where beer was sold. Pfaff's became the preferred meeting place of New York's literary Bohemians (212).[pages:212]
Pfaff is the only person who still remains at Pfaff's when Whitman returns to the bar twenty years after his argument with Arnold.[pages:193]
The obituary states that he was "known to thousands of the older residents of the city as the proprietor of the famous 'Bohemia' chop house that flourished at 653 Broadway, near Bleecker Street, between 1860 and 1875." Pfaff died at his apartment in the Kenilworth of a gastric hemorrhage at the age of 72.
Pfaff was born in Baden and emigrated in 1855 to start a saloon and restaurant on Broadway. Pfaff originally had two establishments, one on Broadway near Amity Street and another at 645 Broadway for about five years; then he opened his place at 653 Broadway. This establishment became "the favorite resort of all the prominent actors, authors, artists, musicians, newspaper men, and men-about-the-town of the time." It is described as "not an attractive-looking place, for it was on the floor below street the level, and was fitted up in a plain, quaint fashion, with an estrade, but the service was clean and the cooking excellent, and it soon made a reputation that brought it hundreds of dollars' worth of daily custom."
The obituary statest that Pfaff was "a model host, and personally looked after the comfort of each of his guests." The obituary mentions that Pfaff had a cook that could prapare the large German pancake, known as "pfannekuchen" and beefsteak "to perfection." According to the obituary, "hundreds of people would visit his place to taste these edibles, drink his famous 'best' Rhine wine, and get a look at the lions of Bohemia."
The obituary mentions that Pfaff moved his establishment uptown in 1876, and claims that he quit the business completely about three years before his death (approx. 1887). The new bar was not as successful as its predecessor.
The obituary mentions that Pfaff made quite a bit of money at his Broadway establishment, which he lent to his friends, who did not repay their loans when he needed them to do so. The obituary insinuates that his friends believe that Pfaff's worry about debt and finances "had much to do with hastening his death."[pages:2]
Lalor cites Charleton's account of the fight between Arnold and Whitman at Pfaff's, which claims that when Arnold and Whitman threw their drinks at each other, "Pfaff made a jump and gave a yell of 'Oh! mine gots, mens, what's you do for dis?'" (135).[pages:135]
Pfaff was a German Catholic from Baden. Shortly after emigrating, he opened a place on Broadway near Amity in 1853, but later settled in a new place at 653 Broadway (49).
Pfaff was known for his quality beer, which "delighted Clapp and O'Brien" (49).
Pfaff was part of the group that restarted the Saturday Press in 1865 (115).[pages:49, 115]
Pfaff's saloon is named as the meeting place for America's first group of self-identified Bohemians (16).[pages:16]
The proprietor of a "chophouse" at 653 Broadway "where the young bloods in criticism and belles-lettres were wont to congregate" (39).[pages:39]
Parry gives a detailed description of him: "Pfaff was a German from Switzerland and he "was rotund of form though devoid of excessive fat. His big head was crowned with short and bristling hair and lit up by a silent yet jovial smile. Like most proprietors of cafes chosen by literati for their headquarters he was not learned but he knew how to behave. He took pride in his beers and wines and still more in his bookish and eccentric clientele. Shrewdly, he was aware of the profitable growth of his reputation as a patron of American belles lettres. He fostered his fame unobtrusively and skillfully. He drank to the toasts of his guests at their invitation. He listened to their tales and verse with a sweet and quiet dignity. He kept his cellar open into the dawn for the sake of a handful of Bohemians engaged in a verse-making contest. He helped in various ways those of his guests whose finances temporarily ebbed. So grew his fame. In New York, by the end of the 'Fifties, his cellar was a landmark viewing with Castle Garden, Tammany Hall, and P.T. Barnum's Museum" (A. Parry 23).
Parry writes that Pfaff accepted his female clientele like Ada Clare and others associated with the group "with a bland smile, paying no attention to the shocked gossip on the street. He was a respectable man of business, but not a one of the customers remarked about Pfaff and his helpers: 'The Germans are not shocked when a woman enters a restaurant'" (A. Parry 21).
Parry claims that it was Pfaff's coffee that intitially attracted Clapp to his saloon. Parry also writes about Pfaff's set-up for the writers who frequented his restaurant:
"The parade passed directly over the heads of the exalted, for in a niche with a vaulted ceiling under the Broadway sidewalk Herr Pfaff had installed a long table especially for his literary and artistic friends. The main room of the saloon was filled with small tables. Here sat other customers, the uninitiated, but here Walt Whitman often took his place, slightly withdrawn from the exalted, the better to watch them, or to have an intimate talk with one or another of them, unhampered. Pfaff presided over the bar, keeping a watchful eye on the few uneven stairs which led to the crowded sidewalk, ready to greet a distinguished visitor" (22). Parry also notes that "Though solid silver and good china were used in Charlie's establishment and sanitary appearances were generally maintained, certain finicky visitors described the chairs as uncomfortable, and the whole basement as dingy. John Swinton was wont to remark that it smelled atrociously, but he praised Pfaff's coffee and sweet-breads" (22).
Pfaff's food appears to have received mixed reviews; he was known for the cheese he served, his cakes, and his fried breakfast fish. Parry also mentions a poet who found Pfaff's breakfast eggs to be the best he'd ever had. Howells enjoyed Pfaff's German pancakes, while another historian claimed that the suppers were bad, "particularly when eaten late at night." Parry writes, however, that "Charlie's liquids were praised alike by the friends and foes of Bohemia. His excellent beer was the pride of the establishment, but he also offered sound ales, red clarets, and cool champagnes. By some contemporaries he was called the best judge of champagne in America. His barrels and bottles held white and red burgandies, Graves and Haut-Graves, Clos Regent and Bonnes Sauternes, Beaune and Volnay, Bonnes-mares and Romanee, sherries and maderiras, Malvoise Royal and Cama de Lobos de Joa Vicente de Silva" (22-23). Visitors were served by "Buxon Saxon girls" and a few male waiters (23).
According to Parry, Pfaff's name was "immortalized in much of the sweeping verse and cryptic prose published in the Saturday Press. Whitman and Arnold are given as two notable examples of those who wrote poems about Pfaff's. The Saturday Press was jokingly referred to as the "house organ" of Pfaff's (23-24). Pfaff advertised in the Saturday Press when Clapp tried to revive it after the Civil War and drew a comment from the World that "Mein Herr was really the managing editor" (32). During this period, Pfaff added a garden and a mural that he advertised as a "beautiful landscape." The mural was defaced by one of the patrons with the seemingly ominous statement: "C. Pfaff and die!," especially in light of the former Pfaffians who were being mourned after the war (32). Pfaff called his restaurant
It is rumored that the American tradition of the surprise party originaate at Pfaff's (Parry notes that this was reported several years after Pfaff's popularity in the New York Herald.) (26). Parry mentions that when Whitman visited Pfaff at his new location on Twenty-fourth street, they drank glasses of champagne to the departed Bohmians, toasting Ada Clare first (37). Parry writes:
"In August, 1881, as noted above, Walt came to Mahattan and after an absence of two decades, took breakfast at Pfaff's, now in a new place in Twenty-fourth Street. Old Charlie had kept pace with the times and moved North as the city's center crept upward. He recognized Whitman and was glad to see him. They talked with feeling of Ada Clare, O'Brien, Clapp, and other Bohemians of the old days. 'And there,' recorded Whitman, 'Pfaff and I, sitting opposite each other at a little table, gave a remembrance to them in a style they would have fully confirm'd, namely, big, brimming, fill'd-up champagne glasses, drain'd in abstracted silence, very leisurely, to the last drop'" (42-43).
Pfaff died in 1890, and his death received some attention. Parry quotes Stedman's remarks to the Herald about Pfaff's former customers:
"They were a clever, hard working set--some of them were brilliant fellows...If many of these men were living now, with equal wit and romance and ambition in their way, they would be in society, have cheerful homes, belond to clubs...No other such list of names that I remember could show such a death-roll of fifteen years from that period...If there had been a Century, a Cosmopolitan, and a score of other paying magazines, I suppose that Clapp, Arnold, O'Brien and the rest would have been as 'conservative' as our modern authors, and would have dined above-stairs, and not under the pavement...Clapp, Wilkins, O'Brien and the rest have a lot of beer and pipes ready to welcome Pfaff over there, I suppose, for he was a generous host to them all" (61).[pages:21,22-23,26,32,33,37,42-43,61]
Pfaff is not mentioned by name in this article (other than in reference to his bar), but a "German Mercury" is described as bringing food, beer, and tobacco to the bohemians as they begin their revels.
Identified as "a poet and Abolitionist" and the proprietor of Pfaff's beer hall.[pages:15]
Mentioned as the owner of Pfaff's restaurant. Pfaff was born in either Switzerland or southwest Germany. Reynolds mentions that Pfaff met with Whitman in 1881 during Whitman's summer tour of the east coast.[pages:376,536]
Pfaff is praised for his collection of wines and spirits, supposedly one of the best in the city.[pages:197-98,204,209,295-7]
Oliver is mentioned "[finishing] the evening at Pfaff's, drinking beer and munching hardtack and pickles" (part 4).
The character "Thomas Brandon Waller," a "sheep-painter," celebrates the loss of his election at Pfaff's (part 3).[pages:3,4]
Stansell describes Pfaff's as "a basement saloon in what was then central Manhattan on Broadway near Bleecker. Pfaff's, a meeting place for journalists, critics, writers and artists, had already garnered a reputation as New York's first and only 'bohemian' night spot." This restaurant would become Whitman's chief source of social interaction for about three years; there "He sat off to the side -- at least he remembered it that way years later -- and quietly absorbed the high bonhomie and bright conversation that were staples of bohemian conviviality" (107).
Stansell also notes that "Certainly imagination was at work in the designation of Pfaff's beer cellar as bohemia. Far from a pack of free-and-easy artistic vagabonds, the Pfaff's crowd consisted primarily of hard-working writers who made penurious livings from the penny press and magazines" (110).
Stansell writes, "A place like Pfaff's thus constituted quite a new kind of public space where, for all the sexaul ambiguities, unaccompanied women were not automatically subject to sexual insult. The few women mentioned in connection to Pfaff's were not prostitutes -- certainly in their own eyes and seemingly in the opinion of the men -- although their unconventionality put them well outside the pale of bougeious female respectability" (112).
Stansell writes, "Pfaff's charm as an insider's hideaway stood in interesting tension to the fact that anyone could locate it: also in this as in other respected, bohemia was inextricable from the cultural marketplace. You might expect a bohemian retreat to have been located in some obscure neighborhood where artists of modest means resided; indeed, this would be the case later with the artists' bars tucked away in the involutions of Greenwich Village. Yet at this point in its history, New York was still delivering up its urban curiousities on the standardized plan of the grid. Pfaff's location on Broadway was at the hub of New York's 'most intense cultural commerce,' as William R. Taylor has described it, extending north along the avenue from City Hall Park" (115).
In a discussion of the "superheated conditions of literary work" in the 1850s, Stansell writes, "Pfaff's was not a place where one went to wind down after a hard day's work; it was different from a workingman's saloon. Rather, it was an anteroom to the workshop, psychologically enmeshed with the affairs of writers, their bosses, their critics, friends and enemies" (117-118).[pages:107,110,112,115,117-118]
In his opening at the crowded Pfaff's Cave in March 1861, Starr sets the scene: "Charles Ignatius Pfaff,fat and genial, presided at the bar; buxon Saxon girls fetched the succulent sweetbreads, German pancakes, oysters, and lager for which he was famous; and at the long table in the low-ceilinged inner vault, beneath the rumble and clatter of Broadway, the regulars lounged among the hogsheads in an atmosphere of pipe smoke and laugher." Starr claims the bar was often crowded at this time, but a few of the familiar regulars had been drawn away on journalistic or political concerns (3).
Starr speculates that when William Howard Russell visited New York he most likely did not visit Pfaff's. According to Starr, the bar was not listed in any of the city's guidebooks and Starr also notes that Russell "received an impresion of the city that Pfaff's would have done nothing to correct" (3-4).
Of the scene, Starr writes: "If New York was not dancing on Doomsday, the Cave at 653 Broadway belied it" (4). According to Starr, "Regularly toward nightfall, Pfaff escorted any unwary patrons who were sitting in the vault to some other part of his restaurant, Henry Clapp, Jr., took his seat at the head of the table, the initiates appeared, and presently, in Whitman's words, 'there was as good talk around that table as took place anywhere in the world'" (4).
Starr writes: "Newspaper reporters and artists for the illustrated weeklies flocked to Pfaff's to savor Clapp's ripostes, hobnob with the literati, and pay homage to the 'Queen of Bohemia,' Ada Clare" (5).
Starr writes that Church's account of the battle at Fair Oaks was "notable" enough "to make Charlie Pfaff proud of him." Church's story ran on the entire first page of the July 3, 1862, Times (109).
According to Starr, the encampment of the "Bohemian Brigade" at the "tumble-down inn" in Jefferson City "became as uninhibited as Pfaff's" (63).
Starr also seems to indicate that Pfaff's was a place where news-rumors gained their own credence in how the war and battles were remembered (235).
Of the changes in climate during the late days of the war, Starr writes: "The new journalism had endowed reporters with a world of their own, with its own news and gossip, its own terminology, its own heroes, villains, clowns, myths, behavior patterns, stories of failure and success. In Charlie Pfaff's Broadway cellar, where once the talk had been of artistic and literary aspiration, the visitor in the fourth winter of the war might have heard how Ben. C. Truman of the Times beat the War Department by four days with news of the battle at Franklin, Tennessee; or of Herald reporter William J. Starks's astute deduction in teh woods near Petersburg that hundreds of squirrels chatters in the treetops betrayed teh recent passage of enemy troops, thereby saving Grant from capture during a reconnaissance; or the fate of R.D. Francis, the fat, sputtering Englishman hired and discharged in turn by teh Herald, Tribune, World, and Times, only to land in a Confederate prison..." (335).[pages:3-4,5,62,63,109,121,235,335]
Whitman discusses his near-perfect ability to pick good liquors.[pages:245]
Winter mentions that during 1859-1860, Pfaff's basement resturant on Broadway was the meeting-place of Clapp and the Bohemians. "That genial being, long since gone the way of all mankind, had begun his business with a few kegs of beer and with the skill to make excellent coffee. Clapp, who subsisted chiefly on coffee and tobacco, had been so fortunate to discover the place soon after it opened. By him it was made known to others, and gradually it came to be the haunt of writers and artists, mostly young, and, though usually impecunious, opulent in their youth, enthusiasm, and ardent belief alike in a rosy present and a golden future. The place was roughly furnished, containing a few chairs and tables, a counter, a row of shelves, a clock, and some barrels. At the east end of it, beneath of the sidewalk of Broadway, there was a sort of cave, in which was a long table, and after Clapp had assumed the sceptre as Prince of Bohemia, that cave and that table were pre-empted by him and his votaries, at certain hours of the day and night, and no stranger ventured to intrude into the magic realm" (63-64).[pages:63-64]
The Vault at Pfaff's
27 Memorial Drive West, Bethlehem, PA 18015