Esquire Restaurant For Men, Penn-Harris Hotel, Harrisburg, PA 1930s
It seems a laughably outdated idea now, but restaurateurs and bar owners experimented with men only establishments in the 1930s as a way of picking up business after Prohibition ended.
The Esquire Grill in the Penn-Harris Hotel in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was one of the best known of these all-male establishments.
In the early part of the 20th century, women did not patronize restaurants on a daily basis and so the food on offer in restaurants and bars was meat and potatoes stuff, with the emphasis on the meat.
When Prohibition was introduced, men began eating lighter meals like sandwiches and salads since it was less tempting to have a long lunch if the only drinks on offer were glasses of milk or cups of coffee.
Bar and restaurant owners longed for the days when men ate hearty meals washed down with copious amounts of beer, wine and spirits and introduced the all-male concept as soon as the booze ban was lifted.
These restaurants had a clubby atmosphere and men could smoke and drink as much as they wanted. Some allowed ladies in as special guests but many enforced a complete ban. Some even used the ban on female guests as a marketing ploy, thus The Esquire wrote on its menus:
"Esquire is Reserved for the Exclusive Use of Men. Please Do Not Ask Us to Permit the Patronage of the Ladies."
The Esquire's menu was geared towards hearty he-man tastes such as Spaghetti Bolognaise (sic) with Meatcake and Spanish Rice Domingo which featured "chicken, lobster, scallops, crabmeat, ham, sausage and rice."
Many men preferred business dining without female company and The Esquire was popular for a while but it became a mixed-company establishment with the advent of the Second World War.
Its unusual name came about because the owners of Esquire Magazine, which had begun publication in October 1933, must have thought that licensing the Esquire name to a men only restaurant would give the brand some cache. However, this was the only Esquire branded restaurant that we know of so the concept failed.
The Penn Harris Hotel, which was constructed in 1918, closed in 1972 and was demolished in 1973
Courtesy Private Collection.
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