When you first enter the RMS Queen Mary's Queen's Salon, you are immediately impressed by the size and majesty of the room. If it is set up for a dining event, such as the Jack Daniel's Whiskey Dinner or the upcoming B. R. Cohn Winemakers Dinner on October 10, the size of the room that can hold over 100 dining guests is impressive. The history of the room, though, is not told entirely by just looking. It is a story of a different era and a luxurious way of traveling. In an interview yesterday, Commodore Everette Hoard of the Queen Mary spoke about the ship, the history of the Queen's Salon, dining on the Queen Mary and more.
In it's heyday, the room hosted many famous people who traveled on the Queen Mary. Not only was it a beautiful room, but it was a place to go to for a cocktail or champagne, some dancing, or just to sit and talk to other well-heeled passengers. Sitting in the next chair might have been Winston Churchill or Greta Garbo, while Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton might be having a drink on the overstuffed couch near the fireplace. Cary Grant, Lord Louis Mountbatten, Marlene Dietrich, Fred Astaire and others traveled in first class, or cabin class as Cunard Lines, the operator of the Queen Mary, preferred to call it. Some impromptu entertainment might occur as Cole Porter walked over to the grand piano and tinkled the keys while singing one of his tunes. Of course, all eyes were on the Queen Mother when she traveled on the Queen Mary, since royalty was still royalty. Even Bob Hope, traveling on the ship also, could not make a joke about the mother of Great Britain's Queen Elizabeth.
Commodore Everette, the current commodore of the Queen Mary, has been fascinated by her since he was very young. Due to his lifelong interest in her, he started working on the Queen Mary on Valentine's Day in 1981, ultimately earning the title of Commodore, a title which only a select few on the ship have ever been appointed to. The honorary title, originally instituted by Cunard Lines, suits the Commodore perfectly, as he knows the ship better than any one else. When asked about his favorite room on the ship, he did not even hesitate before answering, “The Queen's Salon. It is a room of stunning beauty and majesty. The height extends through three decks, with the upper round skylight windows in the clerestory providing wonderful natural light to the room”. The room height at the center is 32 feet, with a width of 70 feet and a length of 96 feet. “The theme of the room is 'Music',” Commodore Everette explained, with the décor done in what was then the current Art Deco style. “The rich paneling is done with three woods; African Cherry (Makore), Canadian Maple Cluster, and Masur Birch. Overall, the room evokes the comfort of an English Manor”.
Various events were done in the Queen's Salon, which in the Cunard Days was known as either the 1st Class Lounge or, as Cunard preferred, the Cabin Class Lounge. Cunard felt that other ships such as the Queen Mary's main competitor, the French Line's Normandie, with their 1st, 2nd, 3rd and steerage classes, were too class conscious and formal. By changing the name, they felt it would appeal to more people, which may have worked since the Queen Mary sailed as a profitable ship while most other ocean liners including the Normandie did not. The room was used for both High Tea and Afternoon Tea, featuring scones with clotted cream and black currant jelly, plus finger sandwiches for the guests to enjoy. The teas were the most obvious nod towards English customs and very popular with the Cabin Class Lounge passengers.
When the Queen Mary traveled on her Transatlantic crossing, the Cabin Class Lounge was not typically used as a dining room. Instead, it was the social hub for the Cabin Class passengers. At various times, dancing, concerts, the daily noontime broadcast of the BBC radio and automated horse racing betting games were available. In addition, for many years the Queen Mary had an organ in the room to provide music for the guests. Often times hor's d'oeuvres were brought in, but with the exception of the teas, the room in it's original inception was not used for dining. That changed after 1967, however, when the Queen Mary completed her last trip and docked at her new home in Long Beach, CA. The name of the room was changed to the Queen's Salon as it became an event and banquet room, with a wide variety of foods available to be served.
The menu items for the Queen's Salon reflect the history of the Queen Mary. Chef Todd Henderson, Executive Chef of the Queen Mary, presides over the kitchen. Commodore Everette has his own favorite of the multitude of dishes served. “I like the 'surf and turf', consisting of filet mignon, salmon, kale, hearts of palm and asparagus spears”. The Commodore had some interesting stories about the lengths the Queen Mary would go to accommodate diners. “They would gladly accommodate any special requests for dining on the Queen Mary. There were only a few times when they were stumped. In 1960, a passenger from Atlanta asked for a Dr. Pepper. Unfortunately, they had no idea what that was!”. The Commodore also told of an occurence in 1954, when Oscar, the Maitre d'Hotel, was asked by a Texas businessman for a rattlesnake steak. Oscar went to the kitchen, a conference ensued, and shortly after, he came out with some of the kitchen staff and a large platter. The platter was presented to the businessman, with three eels taking the place of the rattlesnake”.
The Commodore mentioned some of the other features of the Queen's Salon. “Art Deco in the Queen Mary has its roots from the Odeon movement from ancient Greece so there is a lot of mythological reference in the art such as the stunning Gesso panel in the Queen’s Salon. It is as tall as the room itself and done in gold & silver leaf, it is depicting two unicorns sparring. It is called “Unicorns in Battle” because when two unicorns touch horns the myth says it causes beautiful music! Other features are the phosphorous bronze reliefs over the full stage and doorways called “The Symphony.” There are three decorative electric fireplaces with Golden Onyx mantles and Napoléon Marble hearths with matching Onyx lighting Urns. The room's character is further enhanced by a specially woven carpet imported from England recently. Depending on the time of day, the Queen’s Salon has different moods as light works it’s natural magic on the wood, stone, metal and art”.
The Commodore told a few more stories. “The last day the Queen Mary spent in New York was in September 1967. That day cosmetics queen Estee Lauder stopped by Pier 90 to go aboard the Queen Mary one last time. As she had high tea in this majestic room she commented to the steward 'I just had to come and say good by, it was always like having tea in a castle'.” He also told of being one of the few to meet five of the Masters of the Queen Mary, including Captain John Treasure Jones, with whom he forged a great personal relationship, including several visits to England to visit the Captain before he passed away in 1993. The Captain became a mentor to him, telling him many personal stories about his feelings about the Queen Mary. “Captain Jones told me, “There is something different about the Queen Mary. She has personality and character. She is the closest thing to a human being, she even breathes. This ship has soul”.
Today, as people attend various events such as the Jack Daniel's Whiskey Dinner and the upcoming B. R. Cohn Winemakers Dinner in the Queen's Salon, they can still see the majesty of the Queen's Salon. Commander Everette put it best when he said, “I like to go into the Queen's Salon at all hours, even late at night. There is just something magical about being in the room. I enjoy just sitting down, relaxing and enjoying the majesty of the Queen's Salon. The clerestory panels allow light during the day to illuminate the unicorn panel, and depending on the time of day, you can see different effects with the panels. It is definitely a thing of beauty”.
1126 Queens Highway
Long Beach, CA 90802
Information: (877) 342-0738
Thursday, October 10, 2013
6 to 10pm in the Queen's Salon