On Thursdays, the Tenement Museum’s visitor center stays open until 8:30pm; visitors are serenaded with music playing over the loudspeakers, and the museum takes on a somewhat enchanted ambience. On Late Night Thursday, the visitor center staff have an opportunity to spend a little more time getting to know visitors and speak about what drew them to an after-hours tour of the Tenement Museum.
During the first Late Night Thursday of November, we caught up with members of The Trustees of Reservations, an organization that has built a sterling reputation through over 100 years of hard work caring for more than 100 special places, including historic houses and scenic sites that span nearly 25,000 acres all across the state of Massachusetts. The group had just returned from the day’s last Shop Life tour. We were able to speak for a while with Danielle Steinmann, the group’s Director of Visitor Interpretation, while her colleagues dined at nearby Russ & Daughters Cafe.
Danielle explained that the group, which consisted entirely of members who either served in executive roles for the organization or worked in a historic house, were on a field-trip to study how other museums handled historical interpretation. As they had heard that the Lower East Side Tenement Museum was the gold standard in historical interpretation in a museum setting, they booked tickets for a Shop Life tour to “see how it’s done!”
Despite growing up in New York, Danielle had never been to the Tenement Museum. There were a number of things about Shop Life that surprised her. One delightful surprise was the encouraged group participation and improvisation that occurs early on the Shop Life tour; Danielle played the role of a cigar maker! Her colleagues had fun role playing different historical people who may have visited Schneider’s Saloon, and Danielle noted that this was a “technique to steal!”
The group was also surprised by the sight of food and remarked that it made the saloon feel authentically lived in. Danielle was particularly surprised to learn that women were absolutely welcome in German saloons, but prohibited from American bars.
The Trustees of Reservations’ curators were specifically impressed with their educator’s knowledge and helpfulness in answering questions about the Tenement Museum’s process for putting its tours together. To gain further insight, the group was scheduled to speak to David Favaloro, the Tenement Museum’s Director of Curatorial Affairs, the next day. They had also a planned meeting with New York City’s own Historic House Trust, a vital organization that partners with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to preserve and promote 22 historic house museums located in the city.
When asked if she thought anything could have been done better, Danielle joked that the food “didn’t look quite right… a little too shiny.” Speaking on behalf of her colleagues, Danielle and The Trustees of Reservations joined the growing chorus of Late Night Thursday visitors who have demanded that they be served real beer* at Schneider’s Saloon!
Danielle struggled to come up with any one sentence that summarized her experience, but said that she would think about it during her next tour. As it turns out, Danielle and company were scheduled for a Tastings at the Tenement tour later that night. The prospect of wolfing down the delicacies of the Lower East Side during this tour, right after a sit-down meal at Russ & Daughters Cafe, produced a puzzling mix of envy and empathy… that is a recipe for a very, very full belly!
Later on, as the well-satiated members of The Trustees of Reservations staggered away from their Tastings at the Tenement tour and out into a crisp November night, Danielle looked over her shoulder to cast a parting sentiment: “Here’s your one-liner – that was the best tour I’ve ever taken!”
We don’t know if it was the pickled pineapple, chocolate covered pretzels, or her many years of experience talking, but either way… we’ll take it, Danielle!
(*Important note to beer-thirsty visitors: While the prospects of our providing real lager on the Shop Life tour remain doubtful, we have partnered with beer purveyors Top Hops to provide visitors with a hefty 15% discount on their potent potables on Thursday nights!)
– Post by Ben Wigler