A midcentury Happy Mutant's dining guide to New York City

This is a page from Gustavademecum for the Island of Manhattan: A Check-List of the Best-Recommended or Most Interesting Eating-Places, Arranged in Approximate Order of Increasing Latitude and Longitude — Prepared for the convenience of mathematicians, experimental scientists, engineers, and explorers. Which is possibly the best name for a dining guide ever.

Physical chemist Robert Browning Sosman passed this pocket-sized guidebook out at conferences and updated it regularly between 1941 and 1962.

The key feature: Sosman's ... somewhat unique ... observations about the restaurants he visited. And the fact that much of that information was encoded in a sort of proprietary shorthand, cribbed from scientific symbols. The result looks something like a cross between restaurant listings and an alchemist's workbook.

In each of the guide's at least 15 editions, Sosman reviewed 300 restaurants, relaying facts like cuisine and cost, as well as esoteric observations like tableside lighting (measured in lumens) and waiters' estimated IQs. All of it was written in a mashup of mathematical figures, glyphs, Greek, and astrological symbols. A sigma meant there was samba dancing. A lowercase "m" suggested that Madison Avenue types frequented the restaurant

Sadly, the Saveur.com story that this comes from doesn't include a cheat sheet guide to deciphering Sosman's shorthand. A major disappointment. Perhaps one of you can add to the information here?

See more photos of Sosman's dining guide at Saveur


    1.  Yeah, that caught my eye and I’m gonna start saying that from now on. ….*Tosses it into phrase bin*

  1. In Other Data, the astrological Taurus symbol appears to mean “specializes in steak”. King of the Sea has the symbols for Cancer (crab) and Pisces (fish). Trefner’s has Aquarius, probably meaning drinks, although there’s a teacup in there, so it’s probably a diner.

    In Address, the numbers in the angular symbols probably means the floors up or down the restaurant is located on.

    Aside from that, there’s not much inherent meaning in the letters and numbers.

    1. I’ve been out on a bulldozer all day!  I am totally eating the minestrone at your grandparents’ tonight!!!

      ed: wait?! Ginsberg’s HOWL?!?!?!?!?!!?!! Holy shit!!!!!! AWESOME!!!!11!1!!11!!

      1. Note that that Village Voice review is from sixty years ago. Last I checked, there was an eyeglass store at that address.

        According to my parents, one of the Beat clientle, when they showed the week-old me around the place,  advised them to “raise him as a death-ray repairman.”

    2. I hope they didn’t serve steak.  I need a serrated knife to cut it…I bet all they had were straight edge ones.

  2. The “H” column is easily deciphered. It’s hours. For example: Epicure R. is open from noon-8pm, and I’m guessing the cross means they’re a Christian restaurant, closed on Sundays. Ruby Foo’s is probably open noon-3am, and as a Buddhist restaurant (eight-spoked wheel) is most likely open every day. 

  3. For better clarification: the line that makes an “hour hand” shows opening time. For most restaurants, it’s noon. A few open early, at 10am. King of the Sea is one of those. The Baroque opens late, at 2pm. 

    The clock line then winds around. The Baroque closes at 10pm, so there’s no overlap in lines. Places that stay open late have a line that winds outside the original clock face. King of the Sea closes at about 2am, so there’s an overlap from the morning opening.

  4. I agree with Robert about the astrological symbols, because “terrapin” is also written into that area of specialties for Club 21, and “koldbord” (smorgasbord) is written in for Copenhagen R. Nice catch!

      1. A tramper is an old-fashioned word for a hiker. According to the article, Sosman was an avid hiker and even completed the Appalachian Trail. I think he means that the restaurant doesn’t mind people dressed in informal hiking and other activity clothes, given that many restaurants at the time turned away men without coat and tie.

        1. OK, but what’s a “skier”? I have a hard time imagining people snow or water skiing anywhere near NYC and then dropping into one of these places for dinner.

          1.  My family actually used to have a ski concession in one of the NYC parks. I’ll have to get the details.

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