Remembering the Restaurants Of The Read House Hotel
Monday, August 15, 2022 - by The Quasi Gourmand
The Green Room at the Read House
As a kid growing up in Chattanooga, I experienced many of the local restaurants as my parents ate out frequently. Like my grandmother, my mom was a good cook but she didn’t like cooking as well as grandmother so we ate out - a lot. A memorable experience of fine dining for many reasons for me was at the Read House Green Room as well as the hotel’s Urban Coffee Shop.
The coffee shop was much more than coffee and donuts offering three meals a day. It was located on the corner of the hotel that fronts Broad and went around to what is now MLK.
Most guests entered from the interior of the hotel but their was a small unused door at the corner of the building opening on to Broad.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the Read House was quite a busy place so it was not unusual for the coffee shop to be frequented by traveling salesmen as the hotel featured larger rooms for them to display their merchandise. There were always tourists, local businessmen and a few permanent residents of the hotel and occasionally my family dining there. Sally Weidner was our favorite server and she was always a delight and Mrs Edmondson was the efficient hostess.
The floor in the Coffee Shop was a checkerboard and the room was distinctive in that large rounded booths of cushioned blue vinyl were placed around center supports with mirrors giving the effect of a larger room. The rounded booths were similar to the Brown Derby in Hollywood, but the Derby didn’t have the mirrors. The smaller booths around the walls were also rounded creating a clam shell effect with a black enameled chair on the open side.
When the Chattanooga Opera Association was rehearsing their latest production at the Tivoli, it was not unusual for members of the cast to eat dinner in the coffee shop. Sometimes they would
break into spontaneous song in Italian or German surprising and entertaining the other diners.
A very amusing occurrence happened once while we were eating in the coffee shop. An older couple close to where we were seated finished their meal. Then the gentleman placed several dollars beside his plate as a tip before he got up to pay his check. The lady lingered for a while before discreetly reaching over and picking up the tip placing it in her purse. I don’t think the man saw what she did. He was across the room by now, but a 12-year-old who noticed everything still remembers it today.
The executive chef for the Read House during this time was Gunther Krupp, a German gentleman who was both artist and artisan. He could fashion a tasty club sandwich and hearty soup while preparing the most delicious sword fish steak or red snapper. As superb as Gunther was with entrees, in my opinion, no one could make homemade ice cream better than he. Two of his best were rum raisin and peppermint which he would alternate with other fantastic flavors.
As an example of his versatility, Gunther went back and forth between the Green Room kitchen and the Urban Coffee Shop through a basement underpass. He apparently had assembled a well trained staff in each location as one would have thought he was in both places at the same time or then maybe he really was. He was that good.
We only dined in the Green Room a few times enjoying their impressive offerings. First of all the color was green, possibly a mint green. The ceiling was high supported by square supports with mirrors on each side with sconces. The reflected light brightened the room as it had no windows for natural light. I believe the current owners have continued that mirrored column feature in Bridgeman’s, their contemporary fine dining room which occupies the area of the former tavern and coffee shop.
Each of the tables in the Green Room had white cloths and were set with heavy silverware and china. The tables were arranged around a small stage in the center of the room. The servers wore starched uniforms I believe were gray and we were greeted by a host in formal attire. Guests dressed for the occasion, of course.
On the small stage was a baby grand piano and on Sundays, the Ed Shallet trio provided the entertainment. Bernice Shallet, a very accomplished musician, could play almost any selection whether it was light classics, Broadway or jazz. Earl Van Arsdale was the bassist and Ed Shallet was the leader and played the violin. Shallet for many years was the maestro for the music for the local Cotton Ball.
The combination of the Shallets' beautiful music, the superior skills of Chef Krupp and his staff and servers along with the decor of the Green Room combined to create an atmosphere Chattanooga has not seen since the 1960s. We have had wonderful restaurants here and still do, but none have quite matched the Gotham charm and elegance of the past as did the Green Room at the Read House Hotel.
This had nothing to do with dining but the decor of the 1950s-60s Read House added to the entire experience. My favorite place to go there was the mezzanine - not the side that opened into the Gold Room and Silver Ball Room, but the side that fronted what is now MLK.
The hallway opened out onto two terraces, one on each side of what is now the main entrance on MLK. Stone balusters formed a classic and decorative front to these terraces.
Inside along that long hall were palms and tropical plants interspersed with vintage bent cane furniture. Each had tropical colored cushions. With the tile floor, it created a rather Caribbean effect I haven’t forgotten. I liked it so well, we tried to recreate a little of that in our own home. That’s how much that splendid hotel impressed a young kid.
Today the owners have capitalized on the Roaring Twenties effect to create a splendid reminder of vintage downtown Chattanooga which I hope will go on for at least another century.
The Quasi Gourmand
The Read House in 1974