Dining “among the rooftops” of New York in 1905

Spending a warm evening in a New York rooftop bar or restaurant is one of the city’s sublime summertime pleasures.

New Yorkers in the Gilded Age thought so as well. After the first roof garden opened on top of the Casino Theater at Broadway and 39th Street in the 1880s, other theaters and hotels opened entertainment venues on their roofs, offering cool breezes and panoramic views illuminated by the city’s new electric lights.

“A number of hotels, including the Waldorf-Astoria, the Vendome, Hotel Belleclaire, the Majestic, and the Women’s Hotel, all have charming roof-gardens,” states a 1904 article in Leslie’s illustrated magazine.

French artist Charles Hoffbauer was captivated by the roof garden craze too. In 1904, this Impressionist painter created a series of paintings depicting well-dressed men and women dining on a New York City rooftop.

Yet amazingly, Hoffbauer had not yet been to New York. His rooftop paintings, like “Diner sur le Toit” (top) and a second unnamed painting (middle), were inspired by a book of photos of the Manhattan skyline.

He would come to New York in 1909 and paint many enchanting, atmospheric landscapes street scenes that captured the city’s day and nighttime beauty.

But even without having experienced Gotham, his rooftop paintings (third image, a study for “sur le Toit”) accurately reflect the “bigness and bustle” of the early 20th century city, as one critic put it, of its summertime magic and energy and the fashionable urbanites set who populated its roofs.

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11 Responses to “Dining “among the rooftops” of New York in 1905”

  1. Greg Says:

    >>He would come to New York in 1909

    1906, according to your prior article. Very interesting, thanks!

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Good catch. Seems the date varies, but at least we know he came here in the second half of the first decade of the 20th century.

  2. Zoe Says:

    As a local how have I never done this anywhere? 😦

    That pink evening dress! I wish people still dressed to this degree at every possible occasion.

  3. Penelope Bianchi Says:

    Lovely! I think the Metropolitan Club has a lovely rooftop restaurant!

  4. Kenny Says:

    The first painting is reminiscent of the Absinthe Drinker. Was that demure pose a popular style at the time or is Hoffbauer copying Degas?
    We assume the rooftop bar was a convenient summer necessity in pre air conditioned New York since the fashion conscience elite insisted on hats petticoats and dinner jackets, Damn Beau Brummel and the mode of the day.

  5. Bella Stander Says:

    And then there’s the infamous rooftop incident of June 25, 1906: when architect Stanford White was shot by crazed millionaire Harry K. Thaw atop Madison Square Garden.

    • Zoe Says:

      Thanks for reminding us Bella. I’d completely forgotten about that whilst reading this.

    • Kenny Says:

      Is it my imagination or are famous people remembered more for how they died rather than for their accomplishments in life ?
      Look around, Stanford White literally built the most beautiful parts of our city but today he is remembered for the hole above his mustache.
      I’m leaving out the part where he was a shit (albeit acceptable in guilded age society) of a human being.

  6. The roof sunbathers of New York’s tar beaches | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] beaches? That was the nickname New Yorkers gave for the tarry black tenement or apartment house rooftop. Tenants would drag up a chair or blanket, maybe a book, radio or Walkman, and a cold drink, then […]

  7. trilby1895 Says:

    Reading of this lost enchantment I find myself more and more wishing for a reality of time travel….but always back to the past, never forward into a bleak future devoid of grace and elegance.

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