The Gem, the birthplace of the modern Mardi Gras festival, was located in an old mansion in New Orleans from 1847 to 1919 and was variously a saloon, cafe, oyster house, coffee house and restaurant.
In 1857, some nineteen members of The Pickwick Club met in one of its private dining rooms to discuss the unruly behavior and violence that was tarnishing the image of the city's festival. They formed the secret society The Mistick Krewe of Comus and made plans for organised street parades and floats.
The Gem had a vast menu with dishes offered in French, Creole and American-style, including a locally prevalent fish called the sheepshead, which Mark Twain placed on the list of sixty American foods he missed while journeying through Europe in the fictionalised travelogue A Tramp Abroad ( 1880)
There was a fine wine list with clarets and champagne and cocktails cost $15c. A ladies annex was upstairs as well as private banqueting rooms.
This menu, which we believe is circa 1913, shows a chef putting the finishing touches to a pie while a waiter serves an elegantly dressed couple.
Today, a plaque has been erected at the site of The Gem at 217 Royal Street in the French Quarter that reads in part: 'where Carnival was born...'
Thanks to Henry Voigt for this information
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