User menu


“GO TO PFAFF’s!”: The History of a Restaurant and Lager Beer Saloon

Blalock, Stephanie M. “GO TO PFAFF’s!”: The History of a Restaurant and Lager Beer Saloon. Bethlehem, PA: Lehigh University Press, 2015.

The most famous of the establishments known as "Pfaff’s" was a cellar restaurant and lager beer saloon located at 647 Broadway in New York City. Pfaff’s has been associated with the birth of American Bohemia and has earned a reputation among these writers and actors as a basement haunt where “food and drink were cheap and good” and “habits of dress, speech, and thought, unconventional.” The proprietor of the cellar, Charles Ignatius Pfaff had worked in restaurants in Baden and Switzerland before arriving in New York, where he operated at least four restaurants, all of which were called “Pfaff’s.” The existence of so many places—all fondly referred to as “Pfaff’s”—has lead to confusion regarding the distinctions between and the connections among the individual locations. Even though this book offers an account of the famous saloon at 647 Broadway, it aims to provide detailed records—including physical descriptions—of each of Charles Pfaff’s establishments. By examining the clientele at each address as well as the American bohemians’ complicated relationship with Charles Pfaff himself, this history of every “Pfaff’s” revises the narrative of where and when American Bohemia formed. At the same time, it acknowledges and develops a story of Pfaff’s that is separate from that of the rise of American Bohemia. This project also brings to light previously unknown genealogical records for Charles Pfaff. In doing so, it reveals for the first time the significant roles that Pfaff’s European heritage played in establishing and promoting each of his restaurants. Drawing on an extensive body of primary sources—including immigration documents and advertisements—this book not only traces the history of Charles Pfaff, but it also charts the evolution of the various incarnations of “Pfaff’s,” which ranged from a basement saloon in the late 1850s to a respectable hotel and restaurant from 1876 until Pfaff was forced to retire. By studying Pfaff’s through an interdisciplinary approach that draws on cultural studies, literary history, and periodical studies, this project makes significant contributions to literary study and will engage American Studies and American literature scholars, as well as historians of transnational literary Bohemias, among others. This book portrays Pfaff’s as an international space—part German beer cellar, part American saloon, and part French salon—and argues that it was this unique environment at Pfaff’s that facilitated the formation of American Bohemia.

People Mentioned in this Work