Since 1872, New York’s Lotos Club, a literature and arts organization founded in 1870 that occupies a townhouse on East 66th Street, has regularly held banquets to honor notables in the arts, government, science, entertainment, sports and the business world. Well-known people tried pulling strings to be the featured guest. The dinners also include elaborate menus, sometimes featuring the art of the honoree. It’s all documented in “Art at the Table,” a lavish new book that describes around 120 of the 439 dinners that have been held through 2019. In the first 50 or so years, oysters, green turtle soup, fillet of beef and an ice cream dessert dominated the menus. Back in 1874, King Kalakaua of Hawaii was the celebrity guest, but no women were honored until 1922, when the opera singer Mary Garden was selected. (Women could not join the club until 1977.) The authors have threaded anecdotes throughout, like Mark Twain’s nap during his 12-course meal, a special Peruvian menu served for Mario Vargas Llosa and the menu printed on a Beethoven score for Richard Arnold, a violinist. The name of the club was taken from “The Lotos-Eaters” by Alfred Tennyson.
“Art at the Table: The Lotos Club State Dinner Tradition” by Nancy Johnson and J. Robert Moskin (Scala Arts, $60).