What’s Cookin’ at the Mikado?

Mikado Menu eBay a_e

Here’s a tasty bit of Harmon history, currently being offered on eBay. This vintage menu from the Mikado Inn features two Spring Lamb Chops for $1.50, Filet Mignon Mikado for $3.00 and a Porterhouse Steak for two for $5.00.

Just between us, I recommend the house specialty, Chicken or Beef Sukiyaki , “seasoned with Soyu Sauce served in a chafing dish with rice.”

Many thanks to the eBay seller who gave us permission to share this treasure. You can bid on it here.

Want to know more about what was cooking in the Mikado kitchen? See this previous post. Oscar Levant, the quick-witted pianist, composer, actor, author and quiz-show panelist was there, sharing “sleeping quarters with twenty or thirty Japanese waiters in the cellar.”

Click the image to enlarge it.

Click the image to enlarge it.

American Cooking, Japanese Service!

Nikko Inn Ad Highland Democrat 5-30-1908

"Something New!" proclaimed this ad from the May 30, 1908 issue of the Peekskill Highland Democrat. "Right on the Beautiful Croton River, where Cool Breezes blow even on the warmest days."

This ad must have been the beginning of a publicity campaign, because about a month later the New York Times 1 published a short article about the Nikko Tea House.

"One of the novel features of the big development at Harmon, Westchester County," wrote the Times, “is the Nikko Tea House perched on the precipitous bank of the Croton River . . . The tea house is of rustic construction, and is surrounded by a dense grove of pines and cedars, in which are many picturesque summer houses. . . ."

  1. June 21, 1908

Oscar Levant Plays the Mikado

Mikado Inn 011

Oscar Levant, the quick-witted pianist, composer, actor, author and quiz-show panelist, had his first "extended engagement" at the Mikado Inn in 1922. In his 1965 book, The Memoirs of an Amnesiac, Levant wrote about those days, which must have been quite an experience for a young man who was then just 16 years old.

Oscar Levant at 17 (right), with his brother Howard on the boardwalk in Atlantic City.

Oscar Levant at 17 (right), with his brother Howard on the boardwalk in Atlantic City.

"During my second year in New York I played the piano in a Japanese roadhouse in the town of Harmon-on-the-Hudson, where I shared sleeping quarters with twenty or thirty Japanese waiters in the cellar. . . .

A three-piece orchestra played on weekends but during the week there was just the piano and violin. We alternated between classical and popular music. The place was called Mikado Inn. The rival restaurant . . . was the Nikko Inn. Japanese restaurants were comparatively scarce, so it was ironic that the leading proponents of Japanese cuisine should have been within such a short distance of each other. Consequently, the rivalry was keen.

The upright piano on which I played had a horizontal string across it, on which hung a one-dollar bill—a not too subtle hint for tips, which were mostly forthcoming as the evening progressed and the clientele grew boisterous and drunk. The most popular request was that great American spiritual "Show Me the Way to Go Home." Almost as popular were "Charlie My Boy," and "Yes, We Have No Bananas." For dinner we played concert music.

The proprietor, a rotund, jovial Japanese whom we addressed as Admiral Moto, was completely dominated by his forbidding Irish wife, a tall, dictatorial and quite respectable woman. Every Saturday night Admiral Moto would get loaded . . . There was great activity in the vast kitchen where the chef was a twenty-year-old Italian boy from nearby Croton. He had achieved his Oriental culinary skill under the tutelage of his predecessor, a Japanese chef who had left after a fight with Admiral Moto. This was an interesting anomaly: an Italian chef running a kitchen which served only sukiyaki.”

Coming soon: Admiral Moto’s “forbidding” wife saves his life—”grapples with attempted murderer [and] . . . chokes him into unconsciousness.” Years later she’s named in a New York Times article on the case against an ex-detective who is “vague on $99,240 in deposits” collected from “speakeasies” when he was a “plain-clothes man in the Eighth Inspection District in the Bronx.”

Our Multi-Talented Federal Prohibition Agents

On June 17, 1922 the New York Times published an article on several raids conducted by Federal prohibition agents. The Central Brewing Company in New York City was indicted for selling beer with more than 4% alcohol content. The Feds also seized a Rabbi’s wine, a widow’s whiskey still and further upstate some multi-talented agents raided the Nikko Inn.

The Nikko Inn at Harmon-on-Hudson [was] raided yesterday by Federal Prohibition Agents William McKay, Peter Reager and Leonard Gallante.

At the Nikko Inn the agents represented themselves as actors. Charles Hase, the owner of the place, asked them to “do a turn” for him. McKay fiddled, Reager sang and Gallante danced. The innkeeper was satisfied with their work and was about to hire them, when the agents, after having been served with drinks, as they alleged, at $1.50 a drink, arrested Hase and a waiter, Hero Gotow, on a charge of violating the Volstead act. They gave $1,000 bail each for appearance Monday before a United States Commissioner.

Roy Kojima, Busted and Boastful

nikko-in-ad

Advertisement from Automobile Blue Book, 1917

“Nikko Inn, in Harmon-on-Hudson, Must Close for Two Months,” read the headline of a short article in the New York Times, on May 20, 1925. “Ten restaurants, saloons and speakeasies were ordered closed yesterday by Judge John C. Knox in the Federal Padlock Court. The Nikko Inn, a Japanese roadhouse and tea room in Harmon-on-Hudson, was padlocked for two months. Roy Kojima is the proprietor, and the inn is the first place run by Japanese to be closed in padlock proceedings. The musical program at the inn has been broadcast by radio stations. Federal agents testified they bought highballs for $1 each.”

Covering the same story, the Mount Vernon Daily Argus noted that “Kojima protested, denying that any liquor was sold in his place.”

Both local legend and contemporary newspaper accounts leave no doubt that despite Mr. Kojima’s denial, the Nikko Inn was, in fact, a “speakeasy” during Prohibition.

It must have been quite a romantic and exotic place in those days—a rustic Japanese tea house, perched over a beautiful river, accessible only to locals or adventurous New Yorkers.

Luckily, one of those New Yorkers was Karl Kingsley Kitchen, a journalist who wrote for the New York World, Photoplay Magazine, New York Sun and other papers. He was a bon vivant, famous enough in his day that there is a cocktail named after him in the classic Savoy Cocktail Book (in the section titled “Cocktails Suitable for a Prohibition Country”).

karl kitchen drink in savoy book-619px

In 1931 Kitchen stopped by the Nikko for some “skiyaki” and Roy Kojima was still in charge. The two started to chat and Kitchen wrote about it in his October 6 column in the New York Sun.

So let’s mix ourselves a “Karl K. Kitchen”, savor our illegal drinks, and enjoy this vignette of Harmon history, published 81 years ago.

“When I stopped at Nikko Inn, near Harmon-on-the-Hudson, last Sunday for a dish of skiyaki Roy Kojima, its Japanese proprietor, surprised me by telling me that he was the real author of “The Million-Dollar Baby,” one of the popular song hits of the day.

“Yes, I wrote it five or six years ago,” the stocky little Japanese restaurateur confided, producing a well-worn scrapbook filled with clippings of his poems. And sure enough there was a clipping from a local newspaper published in 1926 with the stanzas and with “Prince” Roy’s name above them.

While the words of the song reveal a considerable variation from these stanzas, the idea of meeting the million-dollar baby in the five-and-ten-cent store is decidedly similar.

“Perhaps two great minds have the same great thought,” said Roy when he replaced his scrapbook with a much more interesting dish of skiyaki, which, if you don’t know, is the national dish of Japan—a melange of meats and fresh vegetables cooked over a charcoal fire. “Then again, perhaps some song writer from New York heard my Million-Dollar-Baby song here. My three-piece orchestra play and sing it many times. Anyhow, Million-Dollar Baby is my idea.”

“Why don’t you sue the music publishers?” I suggested after I had tasted the delectable dish—the best skiyaki I had ever tasted, by the way.

“No, no time to sue anybody,” he replied. “I’m very busy and very happy here. But as a fellow literary man I thought you would be interested. Besides I can write many more and many better songs than ‘Million-Dollar Baby’.”

However, our conversation soon drifted from popular songs to the origin of skiyaki, which Roy, who hails from Tokio [sic], admitted was invented in the rival city of Kyoto many hundreds of years ago, perhaps even 900, he conceded.

“In old Japan it was made with fish or game mixed with vegetables, for there was no beef,” he went on. “Skiyaki made with pheasant or wild boar meat was a great delicacy. Now we make with beef or chicken.”

The porch of the Nikko Inn.

The porch of the Nikko Inn.

“You know all these popular jazz songs have same rhythm as geisha girl song,” he said, coming back to his favorite theme. “Million-Dollar Baby just like old geisha girl song I heard in Japan many years ago. Geisha girls very fond of skiyaki. I hope you like it.”

For my benefit Roy turned on an artificial moon, which shed its rays over the beautiful little lake below his Japanese “tea” house. “I like because it reminds me of Nikko,” he said, perhaps dreaming of his far-off Nippon.

“You mean it looks like Nikko might look if it didn’t look the way it did,” I corrected. But I added that the skiyaki did a lot to create the illusion.

As a matter of fact this little lake with its Japanese teahouse has the most “Japaneseey” outlook and atmosphere of any spot around New York.

Coming next: Some multi-talented Federal prohibition agents use a clever ruse to bust the Nikko Inn in 1922.

A Delightful Place to Dine

nikko-inn-postcard-front

This vintage post card of the Nikko Inn is interesting for several reasons.

Given the high cost of color printing at beginning of the 20th century, the fact that this is printed in black-and-white indicates that it was probably a local production—not a card issued by a major publisher.

The back side confirms this because there is no publisher’s imprint, just a name, “Edward H. Sommers”, hand-stamped in the upper left corner above the handwritten note.

nikko-inn-postcard-back

This is where it gets interesting.

Although the note appears to be handwritten, it was actually printed on the back of every copy, so all you had to do to spread the word about the Nikko Inn—the “most picturesque Japanese Garden, situated at Harmon-on-the-Hudson”—was write a name after “Dear”, address it, and put on a stamp.

Who was behind this clever bit of promotion? Probably the person whose name is stamped on the back. Edward H. Sommers was managing the Nikko Inn prior to 1917.

As we reported in a previous post, Sommers “placed Tumble In, near Peekskill, . . . on a profitable basis,” and “previously . . . had operated Nikko Inn at Harmon. . . .”

Coming soon: A different Nikko Inn proprietor gets busted for serving highballs during Prohibition and later brags about being the real author of the popular song, “I Found a Million Dollar Baby (in a Five and Ten Cent Store).”

The Motorist’s Playground

Good-Roads

Here are ads for three Croton “road houses” from the June 12, 1921 issue of the New-York Tribune. They were part of a full page ad for Westchester hotels and restaurants that appeared under a banner reading “Westchester County, the Motorist’s Playground, 900 Miles of Good Roads.”

Croton-Hotel-Ads

It’s hard to imagine what driving was like in the 1920s, when most roads were not “good roads” and gas stations were few and far between, but another article, from a 1917 issue of Variety, gives us an idea of what it was like when the Croton road houses were “too far away from New York to catch any but” the “neighborhood trade” and “those owning fast cars.”

“The Blue Goose” is the proposed name for a road house to be promoted by E. H. Sommers on the co-operative plan. Mr. Sommers placed Tumble In, near Peekskill, N. Y., on a profitable basis. He recently left the management of that resort, which is a hotel (21 rooms) and restaurant, overlooking the Hudson. Previously Sommers had operated Nikko Inn at Harmon, N. Y., both in neighborhood vicinities and too far away from New York to catch any but those owning fast cars, depending upon road traffic and neighborhood trade. Mr. Sommers became quite well known in restaurant and road circles through his successes with these far-away places. His “Blue Goose” proposition is disclosed by a prospectus offering 750 shares at $100, par, in the corporation, no purchaser to secure more than one share, and all to participate in the profits, besides being allowed a 10 per cent discount upon all checks they may run up in the “Blue Goose.” The location is to be on the Boston Post road, this side of New Rochelle. The benefits to subscribers mentioned in the prospectus are the 10 per cent discount, secured upon presentation of a non-transferable membership card, . . . preference to shareholders in reservations, private parties, etc., use of reading and writing rooms, also showers, the general scheme being to lay out the road house on the plan of a country club. A co-operative road house around New York will be an oddity. Sommers also has an idea of opening a road house on the Albany Post road, situated between Nikko Inn and Tumble In.”

For some postcards of Tumble Inn, see here.

For a postcard of the Nikko Inn, where T. Moto of Mikado Inn previously worked, see here.