A Story of His Life By a Man Who Has Never Gotten Anywhere: Robert Lincoln Watkins, M.D., 1863-1934. A Discussion of the Restaurants of New York.


I suppose I have lived in restaurants for 30 years in the Biggest City in the World. I have claimed that one can live more healthy that way, for one can order what one wants and when one wants to. It is not necessary to health to eat regular.

I’ll bet the Child’s restaurant waiters or managers know me all the way from 14th St. to Harlem, that is by sight. I believe I was one of the first to find out that these restaurants were the most expensive in the city if you are hungry. If you’re not, all right. For reliability they are the best even today. But one does get sick of the all-fired whiteness and cleanliness of them. They are too clean.

I get crazy to find a dirty restaurant. That statement reminds me of the family I once called on. The wife was home and sat talking to me while rocking away in her chair, saying ,”My husband is always so calm, never upset, never angry, everything is always all right. I am sick of it. I want to have a good row.”

[Background: here’s the preface, forward, and notes from the editor of R.L.W.’s memoir; here’s his account of his upbringing through medical school;  here’s when he self-inoculated with tuberculosis and went off to Paris with a charlatan; here’s where he  treated typhoid, learned to dance, theorized, and sutured guinea pigs together; here’s where he contracted cholera and hooked his uncle up with testicular juice; here are his misadventures in self-publishing while treating a slow-motion suicide-by-drinking; here’s where he hung out with a magician and a vaudevillian; here’s where he recounts his singing career; here’s his ode to a Fulton Market butcher; here’s where he explains his profound love of music; here’s an account of a hard-partying man named Emrich; here are his escapades with a reporter, landing him at Carnegie’s house; here’s where he gets rooked by a crook of a partner; here’s where he lost his shirt working on an invention for 15 years; here’s where he traveled south during the World War and became a DuPont physician who was present for a mass industrial accident; here’s his description of complications involving his patients and practice; here’s his take on syphilis, polio, avoiding impositions, and the nature of success; here’s his description of making a coats-of-arms lantern-slide lecture; here’s his encounter with the Gaekwar of Baroda; here’s when he hung out with a hard-drinking Know Nothing Mason; here’s an encounter with Magic; here’s where he describes a Socratic philosopher/preacher who’s also a topnotch croquet player; and here’s a piece I wrote for New York Press upon first reading the memoir.]

One day many years ago I was in one of Barney McFadden’s restaurants and opposite sat a young man with pimples all over his face, red ones. They looked bad. He said, “I have that bad disease sand am taking the McFadden treatment of eating nothing but fruit.” I requested him to let me test his blood for the germs as he went along with the treatment. And he did, for quite a long time. Then I lost track of him.

But here a short time ago, a bald, or nearly bald, man about 35 years of age spoke to me in the 59th St. Childs restaurant. Says he, “Aren’t you the professor that looked me over some 15 or 20 years ago in McFadden’s restaurant?” I recollected the circumstances, but while he recognized me, I never would have known him. He said, “I never took any medicine that time ,but just the fruit, mostly apples, for 5 years I guess, and nothing else. And I do not regret the course I pursued.”

He said he was a carpenter, had always had plenty of work, and was a bachelor. He certainly had lost his hair, though some of it had come in. He looked fairly well, yet there was a bad look to his skin. Of course, some do pull through it, but I think in his case a touch of the regular mars medicine would have saved him his hair – and possibly some trouble in the future that he knows not yet.


Another day while I was eating in a restaurant, I was irritated over some troublesome case or problem, and as the idea unconsciously arose I found I was talking a bit to myself. (It’s common for Wall St. men to be caught doing this.) The man opposite me looked up, plainly showing alarm. I said, “I’m all right,” and went on eating as if he were satisfied I wasn’t dangerous.

The Automat in my neighborhood (west 72nd St.) has been open about three weeks, and it is still full. I say full, for it’s now 1:30 and the group floor is still full, with more coming in as I came out. I noticed they were apparently country people. Some of the restaurants near by are now regaining some of the old customers who left when the Automat first opened. But still, the Automat is full. Where do they come from? I know one man who has closed his house and he and his family, at least, use the Automat.

This place is cool, much more so than any of the others in the city. And yet it’s not cool enough these hot days. For I notice that after being in there a while, it seems to get hot. I wonder about that.

As I dodge about a good deal in the city and visit Automats or other eating places, I have opportunity to criticize. For instance, I have never seen in a an Automat a boiled potato that was boiled enough, and I have noticed the fact in several. I also notice that while these places are clean, they could be cleaner, especially in the downtown ones where the rougher-dressed people come in. It is certainly a great attraction to have the floors scrupulously clean. This could be done by having a special boy with a mop doing nothing else all day.

There is another thing in regard to the quality of the food, which could be improved. Namely, Bickford’s has the best pies, especially apple pies, of any restaurant in New York. Now the Automat could do the same if they tried hard enough. They could be made from sour apples, which is not the case in the Automat. Childs used to have good apple pies, but they haven’t for several years – and I have lived in restaurants in New York for 35 years.

Boston beans are the best today in Bickford’s. They used to be all right in Childs. The Automat’s are good, but not the best.

Even today again, in an Automat way downtown, I noticed those hard-boiled potatoes.

A great advantage for the Automat is their toilet facilities. All one has got to do is to walk right in. No one to ask, no cashier to pass, help yourself either down or upstairs. And then eat as you choose, pie, or cake, or a nip of some kind. For anyone I’ve ever met agrees that these substitutes for the drinking place, one might say, have the best coffee in the United States, and only a nickel at that, hot or iced.

Aug. 29, 1931 at 6 P.M. I was in the Automat at about 27th St. and Fifth Ave. and the toilet was NOT scrupulously clean. The odor was bad.

Sept. 21st, a Jewish holiday, but the Automat is full as it was a week ago, another holiday. Not so with other restaurants around here.

Soya Flour, the most nutritious of all food products.

2 thoughts on “A Story of His Life By a Man Who Has Never Gotten Anywhere: Robert Lincoln Watkins, M.D., 1863-1934. A Discussion of the Restaurants of New York.

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