Tag Archives: hotels

Les Amis d’Escoffier Dinner at the Hotel Radisson

Hungry? This souvenir plate commemorates the 1957 menu for the annual Friends of Escoffier dinner. The banquet was one of the highlights of the Twin Cities’ gastronomic calendars, and provided an opportunity for the host hotel – in this case, the Hotel Radisson – to show off their skills to a cross-section of Minnesota tastemakers.

The local Friends of Escoffier, or Les Amis, were part of a larger movement to honor famous French chef Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935). Men, and later women, gathered to enjoy elaborate French-inspired feasts. At the 1957 dinner, a solo table was set for the deceased chef, complete with full place setting and a portrait.

Escoffier

August Escoffier (from The Gourmet’s Guide to London, 1914)

Serving a roomful of gastronomes was no small undertaking. Work on the menu and procuring necessary ingredients began months in advance. During the evening itself, there was a two-person team serving every six guests. This event was carefully observed and heavily publicized, and the Hotel Radisson left nothing to chance.

The Radisson’s efforts appear to have paid off. The following day, George Rice of the Minneapolis Star reviewed the dinner (under the heading “After This, the Little Woman’s Meals Will Seem Awfully Dull”). His column was full of enthusiasm about the six-hour affair, including nine courses and six wines. The night was “a gastronomic tour de force,” the “eye was delighted,” the “nostrils are charmed,” the palate was “nearly overwhelmed,” the service was “flawless,” and the kitchen staff received a standing ovation at the end of the night.

Attendees came from a range of backgrounds – union organizers, hotel managers, cooks, doctors, and, of course, journalists – and paid only $35 for the night.

“I enjoyed the challenge of putting it on, preparing the 200-pound live turtle into soup, flying in crawfish tails from Denmark, salmon from British Columbia, pate de foie gras and truffles from France, and caviar from behind the Iron Curtain. It took 1000 man hours to prepare the dinner for 127 men.”

-Chef Jorgen Viltoft, quoted in the Minneapolis Morning Tribune, January 15, 1957

According the Hotel Radisson’s own advertising column:

“The only sad note in the Escoffier banquet preparations took place last week when the large choice turtle, which had won the hearts of the Radisson staff and become a pet, had to be sacrificed for the preparation of soup of the banquet.”

“At the Radisson,” January 1957

The final annual Escoffier dinner in Minneapolis was held in 1958, although there was an attempt to revive the tradition in 1970.

This was cataloged as part of the museum’s ongoing comprehensive historic inventory project. Your financial contributions make this and our other activities possible. Click here to make a donation today to support local history preservation efforts at Hennepin History Museum. Thank you!

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From Luxury to Lot: The West Hotel

The history and demise of the West Hotel and the Tiffany urn that was created to honor the founders

The West Hotel was known to be a destination of luxury in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It was built with funds of Charles W. West, and subsequently, he gave the new world-class hotel to his nephew and then manager of the Nicollet House, John T. West. Charles West spent an exorbitant amount of money building the hotel with ornate detail and making it particularly extravagant for visitors. As a result, the building became well known, and was the perfect addition to the then new state’s aspirations for success. The opening night banquet and celebration in November of 1884 was highly anticipated, although sadly approximately two months before the evening, Charles West died.

Silver urn

This large urn stood in the West Hotel’s lobby before coming to Hennepin HIstory Museum. 

Even after the death of Charles West, the building of the hotel continued and opening night was still a major success. It was a night of recognition and appreciation to the two people who made the building possible, Charles and John West. Around 500 guests attended the ten dollar a plate banquet, and many famous Minnesota leaders were among them. This large silver ceremonial urn, believed to be by Tiffany & Co. Silver,  was given to John West who accepted it in honor of Charles West. The 5,000 dollar urn was made in New York specifically for Charles West as a thank you gift from the city of Minneapolis.

Following the opening night banquet, the hotel started off with success as many wanted to experience the extravagance of the West Hotel. In fact, the West Hotel hosted the 1892 Republican National Convention, and famous people such as Winston Churchill and Mark Twain were among the hotel’s visitors. However, after the hotel caught fire in 1910 and more competitors popped up in the area, the hotel lost its luster. In 1940, its owners  decided to raze the building to make way for a parking lot.

West Hotel selling off goods in 1940s

Auctioning West Hotel items before the building was razed. 

The West Hotel ceremonial urn features an image of Charles W. West and the West Hotel as it looked in 1884. The cup sat in the West Hotel for guests to view. It was donated to Hennepin History Museum by Nathaniel DeLue Jr., who acquired the urn after the hotel closed.

Author Bio

Lindsay Simmons is an art history and museum studies graduate student at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. She is currently an intern at Hennepin History Museum working on the museum inventory project. She spent the summer assisting in rehousing and cataloging some of the museum’s 15,000 objects. This urn was one of the first objects she cataloged for the collection. She enjoyed researching this object as it is an important piece in HHM’s collection, and as a resident of Minneapolis, she finds learning about the history of the city fascinating.

Resources

West Hotel, Minneapolis

Thorstenson, Ruth Zalusky. “The West Hotel: Part One.” Hennepin County History 37, no. 3 (Fall 1978): 3–9.

Thorstenson, Ruth Zalusky. “The West Hotel: Part Two.” Hennepin County History 37, no. 4 (Winter 1978-79): 13–21.

Thorstenson, Ruth Zalusky. “The West Hotel: Part Three.” Hennepin County History 38, no. 1 (Spring 1979): 3–11.