A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from February 23, 2009
“What, no spinach?”

"What, no spinach?” was an unlikely slang phrase that became popular in the 1920s and 1930s. It originated in a New York newspaper cartoon drawing (the original hasn’t yet been located) by Thomas Aloysius Dorgan or “TAD” (1877-1929). The joke centers on the fact that many people don’t care for spinach; the speaker is, perhaps, feigning outrage at the fact that the restaurant has no spinach.

TAD is also responsible for the slang phrase “Yes, we have no bananas.”

Wikipedia: Thomas Aloysius Dorgan
Thomas Aloysius Dorgan (April 29, 1877 – May 2, 1929) also known as “Tad Dorgan”, was an American cartoonist who signed his drawings as TAD. He is credited with coining more popular words and expressions than anyone else.

He was born in San Francisco on April 29, 1877. He had two brothers: Richard Dorgan an Joseph Dorgan, and he was married to Izole M. When he was thirteen years old, he lost the last three fingers of his right hand in an accident with a factory machine. He took up drawing for therapy. A year later at the age of 14 he joined the art staff of the San Francisco Bulletin. By 1905 he was working in New York City at the New York Journal as a sports writer and cartoonist. Jack Dempsey described him as “the greatest authority on boxing”.

Dorgan is generally credited with either creating or popularizing such words and expressions as “dumbbell” (a stupid person); “for crying out loud” (an exclamation of astonishment); “cat’s meow” and “cat’s pajamas” (as superlatives); “applesauce” (nonsense); “cheaters’” (eyeglasses); “skimmer” (a hat); “hard-boiled” (a tough person); “drugstore cowboy” (loafers or ladies’ men); “nickel-nurser” (a miser); “as busy as a one-armed paperhanger” (overworked); and “Yes, we have no bananas,” which was turned into a popular song.

OCLC WorldCat record
Any ice to-day, lady?
by Pat Ballard; William Tracey; Hugh Aitken; Dinty Moore; Jack Kaufman
Type:  Music : 78 rpm; English
Publisher: [Bridgeport, Conn.] : Harmony, [1926]
Material Type: Music
Document Type: Sound Recording
Notes: Harmony: 195-H (mx 142259, mx 142260).
Description: 1 sound disc : [78 rpm] ; 10 in.
Other Titles: What! No spinach?, Any ice today, lady?
Responsibility: Ballard. What! No spinach? / Tracey, Aitken and Moore.

Google News Archive
13 August 1926, St. Petersburg (FL) Evening Independent, pg. 4, col. 4 ad:
New Song and Dance Hits

3219—What? No Spinach? Comedian with Piano.

8 July 1927, New York (NY) Times, “Sports of the Times” by John Kiernan, pg. 15:
Perhaps it was under some such barrage that a Giant ball player may have originated the famous phrase: “What—no spinach?”

3 May 1929, Xenia (OH) Evening Gazette, pg. 1, col. 1:
NEW YORK, May 3.—Funeral services will be held tomorrow for Thomas Aloysius Dorgan, known to newspaper readers everywhere as “Tad”, originator of the “indoor sports” drawings and countless slang expressions.

Dorgan died yesterday in his sleep at his home in Great Neck, L. I., after bronchial pneumonia had developed to harass a heart which had been in a weakened condition for years.

Sports enthusiast and boxing writer of note as well as a caricaturist of contemporary life, “Tad” has been an invalid for years but had cheerfully gone about his work.

13 October 1929, New York (NY) Times, “Our Wisecracks Live Fleetingly,” pg. XX13:
Last Winter an actress in a popular comedy on Broadway made quite a hit with the audience when she entered a room filled with people, making the strange remark, “What! No spinach!” It may have been that this phrase was a variation of the old popular song “Yes, We Have No bananas.” it has about as much meaning.

30 November 1930, Los Angeles (CA) Times, pg. 7:
What! No Spinach! So Shotgun Speaks

23 November 1932, Los Angeles (CA) Times, pg. A10:
What! No Spinach?
Jones Maps Out Gastronomical Endeavors for Trojan Team While in North; String Beans, Lettuce on Menu, but Old “Iron-Builder” Absent

His breezy slang covered the span of time from the days of his “twenty-three skiddoo” to “yes, we have no bananas” and “what, no spinach?”

Internet Movie Database
Plot summary for
What—No Spinach? (1936)

Wimpy is working for Bluto in his diner and trying to filch all the food he can eat. Popeye comes in and orders roast duck, but Wimpy grabs the drumsticks, then coats it with pepper sauce. Popeye walks out in anger and Bluto comes after him. Wimpy takes advantage of the resulting battle to load up on hamburgers. Written by Jon Reeves {jreeves@imdb.com}

August 1941, Hearst International/Cosmopolitan, “The Vanishing Village” (Greenwich Village—ed.) by Barney Gallant, pg. 97, col. 1:
Sonia ("the cigaret girl”—ed.) was among the first to celebrate the vitamin content of spinach.  In her visits from restaurant to restaurant, she would examine the menus, and if her favorite vegetable were missing she would exclaim, “What, no spinach? This is a hell of a place, no spinach!”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • (0) Comments • Monday, February 23, 2009 • Permalink