Charging money for ice! In a hotel in Los Angeles that shall be nameless, we recently encountered a sublimation of this scheme whereby one was required to purchase liquor for room consumption and the mineral water to go with it from two different sources: the liquor from a “commissary,” the seltzer from room service, and along with the seltzer at a dollar a split came a charge for the ice to go with it. This was quite aside from the tips involved. It strikes this department that it would be a good idea for the city authorities, in whatever body the licensing power in Los Angeles may lie, to close this hotel for a term of five years and send its manager to the penitentiary for a similar term. If such racketeering came within the province of the Federal Government, one suspects that twice the sentence could be obtained in a Federal court.
Another pretty practice that has grown up in gyp joints throughout the land is the “no bar” charge on the check, that is, a tax of twenty-five cents for not ordering anything to drink. It would seem that in any responsible community this would be actionable as criminal extortion or coercion, and yet in New York, where liquor practices are supposed to be rigidly supervised by a responsible state agency, this abomination flourishes and the stupid suckers among the patrons put up with it. Such rascality can only flourish with the knowledge and consent of the gullible public, but one suspects that one of these days there may be a sort of Taft-Hartley enactment governing eating and drinking throughout the land, and if there is, the restaurateurs and hotel proprietors who make a practice of rolling their guests while they are still on their feet will have to bear the blame for it.
The truth of the matter is that a state of actual hot war exists between the public and the hotel business as a whole in the United States. Perhaps a good touch of hard times is what the hotel business needs, with five-sixths of its rooms vacant and the remainder renting for a reasonable three dollars. This doesn't go for a few old-time, personally managed, conservative establishments who know the spending spree won't last forever and who cherish the bond that always used to exist between the inn-keeper and his guest. But for the rest, the time may be closer at hand than they think where, as in Mexico, the business of a hotel is the business of the state and the 100 per cent per annum profits that some American hotels have enjoyed for the last decade simply don't exist.
And incidentally, this department has yet to hear a complaint about any hotel in Mexico under the current state regime, and its own experiences there have been extremely gratifying. If there is a responsible hotelmen's association in the United States, it could do worse than to latch on to what gives among some of its members, as there are a lot of people going around remarking that there isn't anything wrong with the hotel business that wouldn't be fixed by a hole in the head.
Charging for ice and charging for not drinking indeed!
One of the gracious and congenial customs surviving, among others, from a gracious and vanished era and one which finds its fullest flower in leisured and leisurely Boston, is the dinner club. Boston, and to an only slightly less degree Cambridge and Harvard, is a veritable nest of tables of clubs within clubs, many of them of ancient origin and all of them possessed of a nostalgic charm deriving from other times and manners. There is a dinner club within the membership of the august Union Club, only a seltzer squirt above Brimstone Corner in Park Street; the Tavern is itself a dinner club with a distinctive evening waistcoat of its own to be worn on state occasions. There used to be a charming intimate group of eight or ten members within the St. Botolph, which included within its personal economy such notables as the late Jake McGrath, city coroner of Boston, and Dr. Gustavus Howard Maynadier of Harvard.
Perhaps the most celebrated of Boston's dinner clubs, however, is the Beacon Society, a group of congenial and generally important characters which gathers five or six times a year for wine, wit, and song at the stately Algonquin Club in Commonwealth Avenue. Its membership is exalted, its menus a legend, and its past fragrant with souvenirs of an older and more homogeneous Boston. The origins of the Beacon Society are in themselves reminiscent of a mellower way of life and had their source back in 1881 when there was a lot of fine talk in the air about Boston's having a world's fair. A group of first citizens came together at the then new and gleaming Vendome Hotel, the first public hostelry to boast electric lights in the whole United States, to set themselves up to dinner and talk over the proposed fair. So brilliant was the menu, so encouraging the wines, and so enchanting the company that, although little was done about the fair, it was decided to continue the investigation at another enjoyable dinner the following month.