New Englanders settle in Chicago, bringing with them a taste for oysters. Chicago had become a huge oyster town, with large multilevel oyster houses. In one massive building, these houses would have a dance hall, lunchroom, formal dining, and taprooms.
Delivered by sleigh from New Haven, Connecticut, the first fresh oysters in Chicago were served in 1835 at the Lake House Hotel on Kinzie Street. The Lake House Hotel establishment was our city's first foray into (5-Star) fine dining and offered these East Coast imports to their well-heeled clientele. It was the first restaurant to use white tablecloths, napkins, menu cards, and toothpicks.
This spurred Chicago's earliest love affair with the oyster. By 1857, there were seven "Oyster Depots" and four "Oyster Saloons" in the city.
Chicago's population in 1860 was 109,000. Peaking in the Gilded Age of the 1890s, with a population of just over a million people and waning with Prohibition, oyster consumption was plentiful in old Chicago.
|Oysters Six Ways.|
Believe it or not, Ice Cream parlors also served oysters because they had all that ice.
In the 1890s, express-service refrigerated train cars shipped oysters and other perishable foods around the country. The cars did not come into general use until the turn of the 20th century.
NOTE: The oysters were kept alive on ice while being transported. If an oyster's shell opens, they die. Dead oysters carry some very dangerous bacteria for humans.
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.
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