This freewheeling French cafe and artist hangout had a colonial-era past

Sometimes you come across an image that compels you to do some research. That’s what happened when I found myself viewing this fleeting moment of intimacy below.

“At Mouquin’s” is a portrait by William Glackens, a founder of the Ashcan School known for his tender urban realist landscapes of New York City at the turn of the century.

In this painting, Glackens shows us two patrons at a cafe called Mouquin’s—a bustling, covivial spot on Sixth Avenue and 28th Street in early 20th century Manhattan’s red-light Tenderloin district. It should be a lighthearted, jubilant scene befitting this decadent era before financial panic, the Great War, and Prohibition.

Yet the painting captures a disconnect. While a man of wealth and status tries to engage the interest of a woman sitting with him at a small table, she’s a million miles away—sipping a different drink, turned in another direction, alone in the crowd in 1905 New York City.

Who is this woman, and where is Mouquin’s? The Art Institute of Chicago, which has the painting in its collection, sheds some interesting light.

“In this vivid painting, William Glackens portrayed the members of his circle at their favorite meeting place, the New York restaurant Mouquin’s. Jeanne Mouquin, the proprietor’s wife, shares a drink with James B. Moore, a wealthy playboy and restaurateur, while the artist’s wife, Edith, and art critic Charles Fitzgerald are reflected in the mirror behind them.”

The members of Glackens’ circle also included fellow Ashcan School painters Robert Henri, George Luks, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan. The group began gathering for nightly rendezvous at Mouquin’s after Glackens, Henri, and Sloan all found themselves renting studio space in the Sherwood Building on Sixth Avenue and 57th Street, according to Bennard B. Perlman, author of Painters of the Ashcan School.

While Glackens captured the dynamic between men and women inside the cafe, Shinn painted the exterior of this unusual, colonial-looking structure in wet winter weather (second image, above).

That these painters chose Mouquin’s as their hangout isn’t surprising. Founded by Swiss immigrant Henri Mouquin, the cafe first opened its doors on Nassau Street, then moved to Fulton Street. In the early 20th century, Mouquin’s relocated to the Tenderloin. There, politicians, newspaper writers, artists, and authors enjoyed alcohol-fueled conversations until the 2 a.m. closing time.

This was no stuffy Gilded Age dinner spot. Mouquin’s “always was distinctly New York and like the city, thoroughly cosmopolitan,” wrote the New York Herald in 1919. “Because of this character it has the breadth and freedom of cosmopolitanism. It never troubles itself about the rules.”

What gave Mouquin’s even more atmosphere was the building’s pedigree as a surviving piece of colonial New York City. Originally an 18th century estate house owned by the Varian family, it served as headquarters for Hessian generals during the Revolutionary War.

In 1825, the house was converted into a roadside inn called Knickerbocker Cottage (above, in the 1850s). In the first half of the 19th century, Sixth Avenue at 28th Street was almost the country, far from the din and activity of the main city. By the time Mouquin and his wife moved the cafe here around 1900, the area was in the middle of theaters, gambling houses, and other nightlife venues, accessible via the elevated train roaring overhead.

Mouquin’s entertained an eclectic mix of New Yorkers until the 1920s, when it was done in by Prohibition. The vine-covered, Parisian-like facade disappeared when the structure was knocked down soon after. But what a convivial atmosphere this colonial cottage had in its late Gilded Age heyday!

[Top image: Art Institute of Chicago; second image: Fine Art America; third image: Columbia University; fourth image: NYPL; fifth image: Library of Congress]

Tags: , , , , , ,

26 Responses to “This freewheeling French cafe and artist hangout had a colonial-era past”

  1. Mykola Mick Dementiuk Says:

    Wouldn’t it be in the middle of the Tenderloin/Red Light district of Manhattan?

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Yes, exactly!

  3. burkemblog Says:

    This was fascinating. I’ve seen the painting at the Art Institute and assumed this was the beginning of the end of an affair—or marriage? Thanks for providing such a detailed exegesis.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      You’re welcome! I’m sure there’s more to it than what the Art Institute explained, but perhaps we’ll never know.

      • Bob Says:

        The New York Times, November 18, 1900
        “MOUQUIN FAMILY TROUBLES.”
        Wife Sues for Separation and Husband Asks for a Divorce.

        Domestic troubles of Henri Frederic Mouquin, President of the Mouquin Restaurant and Wine Company, have become public through an action brought against him by his wife, Jeanne Louise Mouquin, for separation on the ground of cruelty and non-support. The couple lived at Nanuet, N.Y., and Mrs. Mouquin says that when she returned from a shopping tour on Nov. 3 last, she found four strange men in the house, who ordered her to leave forthwith with her servants. She hađ her husband and three of the men arrested for this, and they were held for examination by a Spring Valley Magistrate eleven days later.

        This was the culmination of years of quarreling, she says. Howe & Hummel are to ask for counsel fees and alimony in behalf of Mrs. Mouquin in the Supreme Court, while Mr. Mouquin has commenced a counter action for an absolute divorce. The couple were married June 7, 1893, and before that Mrs. Mouquin says, though a married woman, with two children, she was employed as a governess in the household of the Governor General of Canada. She says that it was upon Mr. Mouquin’s pleading that she obtained a North Dakota divorce from Guillaume Charles Ami. She first lived with Mouquin in West Hoboken, but they quarreled over a servant girl and she left him for a time, but returned to him when he had bought the Nanuet place. She declares that she is destitute, while Mr. Mouquin enjoys an income of $10,000 a year and owns much real estate.

        https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1900/11/18/102504357.html?pageNumber=14

      • Bob Says:

        The New York Times, April 19, 1901
        “Henry F. Moquin’s (sic) Marriage Annulled.”

        Ex-Judge Donohue, as referee, filed a report in the Supreme Court yesterday recommending that Henry F. Mouquin of the Mouquin Wine and Restaurant Company be granted his application to have his marriage annulled. Mr Mouquin in 1893 was married to Mrs. Jeanne Louise Ami. It was claimed that she was not legally divorced from her first husband, although she had gone to Dakota (sic) and obtained a decree. The referee finds that the Dakota (sic) divorce was illegal in this State, as Mrs. Ami’s husband had never entered a defense or appeared in the proceedings, so there was no divorce.

        https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1901/04/19/117961540.html?pageNumber=16

      • Bob Says:

        The New York Times, April 23, 1901
        “MOUQUIN’S MARRIAGE ANNULLED.”
        Justice Lawrence Signs the Decree–The Couple Are Friendly.

        The decree of the annulment of the marriage of Henri Frederic Mouquin to Mrs. Jeanne Louise Ami was signed yesterday by Justice Lawrence in the Supreme Court. Although the annulment proceedings have been in progress for sometime the couple are now on friendly terms with each other. The annulment came about through the fact that a decree of divorce, which the woman obtained from her first husband in North Dakota, was declared void.

        She was married to William C. Ami, at Toronto, Canada in 1883. She and her husband did not agree, and she left him to become governess in the family of Lord Stanley. In 1892 she met Mr. Mouquin’s father, and was invited to visit his family. In February, 1893 she became Mrs. Mouquin. Last Summer there was a disagreement, and she commenced an action for separation, which was answered immediately by the annulment proceedings. The case was sent to a referee, who found that Ami was still living, and that the original divorce from him was void. The couple have a son about eight years old.

        https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1901/04/23/117962155.html?pageNumber=16

      • Bob Says:

        https://www.mouquin.com/mouquin-house

        At the turn of the Century, Henri and Jeanne Louise Mouquin were suffering from a marital scandal that had erupted while they were living on a chicken farm in Nanuet, New York, in November of 1900. The farm supplied fresh eggs and poultry to the family restaurant business in New York City.

        […]

        The original downtown restaurant is credited with introducing onion soup and bouillabaisse to New Yorkers. More importantly, it taught the American public how to appreciate fine wine at reasonable prices. Located between Fulton and Ann Streets, the restaurant was a favorite haunt of writers, newspapermen, politicians and Wall Street tycoons. Charles A. Dana of The Sun, Horace Greeley of The Tribune and James Gordon Bennett of The Harold were among them.

        Madame Jeanne Louise Mouquin, an attractive redhead, was reportedly having an affair with the manager of the chicken farm, a Monsieur Leon L. Chevanney, on nights when her husband sent word that he would be working late at the restaurant. One night he returned home unexpectedly, surprising his wife. Monsieur Chevanney escaped by jumping out a second story window. The scandal hit the newspapers. In retaliation, Madame Mouquin told the newspapers that her husband had had an affair with the maid while they were living in Hoboken, New Jersey. At the time of her unwanted pregnancy, the maid blamed the coachmen. Later, after the baby was stillborn, the maid confessed to her mistress that Monsieur Mouquin had fathered the child. Newspapers hinted that there would be a divorce.

      • Bob Says:

        https://www.mouquin.com/chez-mouquin

        A beautiful redhead strolled in to the restaurant on Fulton Street at the height of the gilded age in 1892. Jeanne Louise Berlet Ami was 27 years old. She carried a letter of introduction from her father, M. Berlet, who lived in the Alsace part of France. Her father may have operated a pension (hotel and restaurant) in Konigsberg, near Harincourt, France. At any rate, her father was an acquaintance of Henri’s. Henri’s 25-year-old son, Henri F., greeted her and it was love at first sight. The younger Henri introduced her to his father and she was immediately invited to return later and join the family for dinner upstairs.

        Jeanne Louise was an accomplished woman. She grew up in the Alsace Lorraine area during a period when the border between Germany and France varied from year to year. Sometimes she went to school to learn German. Other times, the official language would be French. Fluent in both French and German, she also taught piano. At the time of their first meeting, Jeanne Louise had come from Ottawa, where she had been employed as the governess to the children of Lord and Lady Stanley.

        As romance blossomed with the young Henri; the problem unfolded that Jeanne Louise was already married to a Monsieur Ami and had two daughters: Laura and Blanche. Not to worry, the young Henri was so in love that he arranged to have Jeanne Louise take up residence in Fargo, North Dakota for the three months required to get a divorce. Fargo, North Dakota must have been very cold in February of 1893. Jeanne Louise busied teaching piano, reading and writing letters, and embroidering her linens. The happy couple reunited in June, promptly married, and set up housekeeping in Hoboken, New Jersey. Henri quickly adopted both Blanche and Laura. Their only son, Henri Mouquin, was born, November 22, 1897. Shortly after the birth of Henri, Jeanne Louise’s young daughter Laura passed away, presumably of tuberculosis; as she had been cared for in a sanatorium in East Las Vegas, New Mexico.

      • Bob Says:

        In the New York Tribune’s November 18, 1900 coverage of the couple’s claims, it states “[…] Mouquin, in reply to his wife’s suit, has begun an action for an absolute divorce, in which he charges her with faithless conduct at their country home at Nanuet, Rockland County, and at other places. […]”

        https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030214/1900-11-18/ed-1/?sp=3&q=mouquin&r=0.127,0.812,0.327,0.205,0

      • ephemeralnewyork Says:

        Ah, quite a scandal! Thanks Bob for the links.

  4. Anna Lehr Says:

    She looks so bored-probably did this night after night-love the building -it’s such a shame that they tear down these wonderful places.

  5. velovixen Says:

    It’s funny that I’m reading this post in Paris. So why, you may ask, am I spending time in this amazing city in such a way? Well, 99.8 percent of the time, I read this blog in its subject, which just happens to be another amazing city: New York.

    It fascinates me that two artists can make Mouquin’s feel so different: one from the dynamic of two people in it, the other from the light and snow on the outside.

  6. Clyde Says:

    As always, I admire your research skills.
    Upon viewing this painting, I assumed it was a woman telling the man to “Get away from me, ya disgusting creep.” I’ve had some experience with that sort of scenario.

  7. carolinedena Says:

    It appears that she is married. She has a ring on her left finger. She also has one on her right hand.

  8. countrypaul Says:

    Another fascinating look at something almost totally forgotten. Thank you!

  9. Gary Says:

    As the wife of the owner the woman would be expected to be polite and join the customer for a drink but she would not be expected to engage in a romantic episode in public. They both seem to be looking at the same thing. I suspect that has to do with the artist’s preference for the composition. Otherwise the painting is pure Manet…which I find rather bold for Mr. G. Your research on the building is first rate. Explains why I follow.

  10. Bob Says:

    Mouquin Restaurant And Wine Co.: Menus: Whats on the menu?
    http://menus.nypl.org/menus/13878/explore

  11. Bob Says:

    Link to photo of the dining room from the book “Where and how to dine in New York; the principal hotels, restaurants and cafés of various kinds and nationalities which have added to the gastronomic fame of New York and its suburbs.” Published 1903.

    https://www.loc.gov/resource/gdcmassbookdig.wherehowtodinein00newy/?sp=252&r=0.141,0.129,0.798,1.274,90

  12. Bob Says:

    “Well-dress patrons pause outside of Mouquin’s around 1901” Colorized image at https://bit.ly/3irLy68

    Posted on the Daytonian in Manhattan blog, “The Lost ‘Knickerbocker Cottage’ – 6th Avenue at 27th Street”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: