San Antonio Supper Club: A Snapshot

Posted by:
Susan Rooke
August 11, 2016

A couple of weeks ago in the post “Too Close to Home” I wrote about how painful nostalgia is for me, and how, as a result, I’ve deliberately shut away memories, refusing to look back on a large part of my life. I do it for self-protection, and it’s pretty effective. I think I’m a lot happier this way. I was surprised and pleased when the post struck a chord with quite a few of my readers, who, it develops, sometimes feel the same about their own memories. It was comforting to hear that, and good to know I’m not alone in feeling this way. Thank you all for sharing that with me! Now I’d love it if you’d share something else.

Since that post I’ve thought a lot about the memories I do allow myself, specifically, the ones from my childhood, before I was 16 or 17. Every so often I’d like to record them here, as snapshots of the past. It just seems important to me to do that before they fade to insignificance. Readers, what I’d like from you is for y’all to share your own snapshot memories. You can do that by emailing me or by using the website’s Contact form (which has its own page, listed in the Menu). Feel free to use your name or not, as you like, but my intention, if you agree, is to publish your snapshots in future blog posts. It will be enriching, eye-opening and fun, like opening a time capsule. I’m sure some snapshots will prompt us to think about the mind-boggling changes society has seen in our lifetimes. (For instance, recently Glen and I watched the 1987 movie Wall Street for the umpteenth time. My jaw always drops at the scene where Charlie Sheen starts to light up a cigarette in Martin Sheen’s hospital room. Thinking about how prevalent smoking used to be is what brought this memory to mind.) So please, don’t be shy! Any decade. Any country. Any memory.

Here’s my first snapshot, of a supper club in San Antonio:

Though the practice has largely been abandoned, businesses—in particular bars, restaurants, nightclubs and supper clubs—used to give out matchbooks with their logos printed or embossed on the covers (and there was at least one ashtray on every table). I remember a formal wedding reception in the early 1960s where hundreds of white matchbooks bearing the newlyweds’ names embossed in silver were displayed in big crystal bowls, free for the taking. Since I was made to collect matchbooks when I was a child (presumably they were going to be worth something one day, although I never stuck with it long enough to find out), I had quite a few from the places where my family went to eat out. One of these was a members-only San Antonio “supper club” (and how retro that term sounds to me now!). I won’t name it. It’s still in operation—though in a much more modern incarnation—and there may be some old-timers there who remember my family. The last time I ate there was in the mid-1960s.

There were two seating areas: a vast, open room holding fifty or more tables, where we would go for lunch, and a smaller, more intimate space where we had dinner on special evenings. Both rooms were artfully arrayed with many reflective surfaces, and in my memory they shimmer as if their contents were glazed with ice. The smaller dining room had a dance floor where couples glided in a decorous foxtrot to sedately jazzy live music. As a little girl, I danced there with my father.

Every table in both rooms was dressed with a starched white tablecloth and napkins, and set with the heavy, silverplate flatware used in grand old hotels. In the middle of the tablecloth would be a long, narrow, silver-toned basket of cellophane-wrapped melba toasts, and a similar dish of chilled celery sticks, radishes and black olives (from a can). At dinner, each table also held a lampshade-dressed light, creating intimate, glowing pools amid the icy shimmer. It seemed to me like the height of elegance.

I don’t remember what we ate for lunch, but for dinner we often had Red Snapper Amandine—a real treat. Not quite as spectacular as having snapper in New Orleans at Antoine’s (another snapshot!), but very good, and definitely memorable. I can’t recall what my parents drank, but, knowing my mother, I’m sure champagne was often in the glass. In a coupe, of course. We never saw a champagne flute, or even knew what one was, until years later.

And on every table was a sparkling glass ashtray with a fresh book of matches in it, propped upright to display its cover logo.

Okay. Your turn!

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