Political Correctness

Super-Chef Tom Colicchio Changes Name of New Restaurant Because…Phrenology

Where should we stop (and start) with renaming places due to historical crimes?


David Shankbone, Flickr, Wikimedia

Let's hope that Ed Krayewski is right that ESPN pulling sportscaster Robert Lee from calling a University of Virginia football game "because of the coincidence of his name" with the Confederate general is indeed a "turning point in the debate over 'PC culture.'" ESPN's Lee is Asian American and has no connection to Robert E. Lee, whose statue was a rallying point for white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, University of Virginia's hometown.

But hope will only get us so far.

The New York Times reports on another PC controversy, this one involving the "racially tinged" name of a restaurant opened last fall by superstar chef Tom Colicchio. If you're faint of heart, read on with confidence, as the name isn't anything like some old defunct chains or even Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken (like ESPN's Lee, not a callback to the Confederate States of America).

Tom Colicchio is dropping the name of his newest Manhattan restaurant, Fowler & Wells, after learning that it has historically racist connotations. The new name is Temple Court.

Fowler & Wells, which opened last October, was named for a publishing company and scientific institute that once operated in a building on the same site in the financial district; that building was later torn down, replaced by Temple Court, the building that stands there now. The men who started the company, Lorenzo and Orson Fowler and Samuel Wells, were proponents of phrenology, a popular 19th-century belief that the shape of one's skull revealed characteristics like mental aptitude and personality.

The practice was frequently used to justify slavery and to advance a belief in African-American inferiority. Orson Fowler wrote that coarse hair correlated with coarse fibers in the brain, and indicated coarse feelings; that, he wrote, suggested that people of African descent had poor verbal skills and traits that were best suited for nursing children or waiting on tables.

As the Times notes, Colicchio wasn't exactly using the name as a dog whistle to become the go-to meeting place for wealthy white supremacists. Indeed, he is a liberal's liberal who tweets against Donald Trump on a regular basis and told the paper of record, "I have a fairly liberal persona and never in a million years would consider myself a racist, so it never crossed my mind."

Public Domain

So what happened? A January review of the place by the Times didn't just give the place a mixed-to-negative two-star review. It included this passage about the restaurant's site:

Among its tenants were Orson Fowler and Samuel Wells, a pair of phrenologists with a sideline in publishing.

The 19th-century belief that skull shape revealed character provides some amusing, arcane cocktail names. But in its day, phrenology wrapped a gauzy cloak of fake science around the ugly armor of racism. Fowler was close to several abolitionists, but he also wrote that the heads of black people made them "our best nurses" and "excellent waiters" while dooming them to language skills that were at best "middling."

The upshot is that Colicchio has just completed the name-change of his joint, to the bland Temple Court, over a period of months and at a cost between $50,000 and $100,000, according to the Times.

While there's no question that the namesakes of the restaurant were racist—and anti-Semitic, too, with Orson Fowler apparently believing that Jews were "hereditarily aquisitive, deceitful, and destructive"—there is surely a question as to whether it is, in the words of Reason's Krayewski, "the perception of potential outrage rather than the outrage itself that drives these disputes." Colicchio recalled for the Times that once the review came out, "very quickly, internally, we told people we were changing the name of the restaurant." Obviously, Colicchio has every right (and possible good marketing reasons) to change the name of his restaurant (maybe he'll even get a new, more successful review from the Times.)

Should things stop there? The restaurant is located in a building called The Beekman, which sits on Beekman Street in Manhattan. Both are named for an early Dutch settler and politician, Wilhemus Beekman. He was instrumental in the success of what was then called New Amsterdam and was thus directly implicated in the introduction and expansion of slavery in New York.

Perhaps more than many libertarians, I'm sympathetic to renaming of places and names as a way of righting past wrongs; names and meanings are always changing anyway, why not because people are fed up with the past? I'm also general comfortable with at least figurative iconoclasm. But I doubt that many people nowadays calling for the constant and ongoing purification of history are fully aware of the dynamics they are putting into play.

NEXT: I Became a Pot Felon at 18. I'm Owed More Than an Apology.

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  1. But I doubt that many people nowadays calling for the constant and ongoing purification of history are fully aware of the dynamics they are putting into play.

    It’s all about the feels over the reals, yo.

    1. Dr. Evil Yellowteeth.

      1. It is a really bad picture of him.

  2. Fowler AMPERSANDamp; Wells

    Wasn’t general Fowler AMPERSANDamp; Wells one of the heroes of the Battle of Fair Oaks AMPERSANDamp; Darbytown Road?

    1. Sorry, you are only to be judged by the worst thing you’ve ever done or said.

  3. Of course he changed the name, Colicchio has the brainpan of a stagecoach tilter.

  4. Lets do away with names altogether and just give everything an alpha-numeric code. Although there are some, no doubt, who will claim that the alphabet and number system we use are also inherently racist-so those must go too!

    1. Almost as bad, they’re cultural appropriation – the alphabet from the Phoenicians and the numbers from the Hindus by way of Arabia.

      1. We haven’t had any native American hysteria in a while. 20-1 that CNN/MSNBC re-visits this topic by Thanksgiving.

        Bound to be some statues and historical figures to get insane about

        1. It will very soon be the 525 anniversary of Columbus finding Asia. 5 is the square root of 25 and is prime.

          “Root” appropriates from TV miniseries of African Americans.

          “Prime” rubs salt in the wounds of poor people everywhere.

          I think there’s enough racism and otherism there to insult all good Proggies.

      2. But if we Aryans are taking Hindu numbers from Arabs, isn’t that just proper revenge? I need a ruling on this.

      3. And you know how badly the Phoenicians and Hindus treated minorities.


    2. Although there are some, no doubt, who will claim that the alphabet and number system we use are also inherently racist-so those must go too!

      So instead of an alpha-numeric code, just give everything an Emoji based designation.

      1. Brilliant!

      2. How about if we just go by a series of grunts and hand signals.
        Since we are reverting back to the dark ages, lets go for the stone ages.

        The enlightenment has existed the building. Funny how this happened over the course of the last 4 presidents and what type of people they are.

        1. Well, I guess they’re out then. Someone else suggested binary. I think that might be the only thing that won’t be offensive to someone…

          Oh wait, binary implies that there are only 2 choices, and as we all know there are at least 6 genders now, not just 2, so binary would be triggering to trans and those who identify as something other than men or womyn, so that’s out too. Damn, this is harder than I thought.

          1. Plus, isn’t binary really just an appropriation of Babylonian Manichaeism?

            1. So it’s cultural appropriation too? Sheesh, I’m literally worse than Hitler for even suggesting it.

        2. These new figures aren’t emoji of color; they’re just white emoji wearing masks.

          Just f—–g shoot me already.

          Oh and BTW hon, this is not Apple’s doing. You can thank the Unicode consortium’s falling on their knees to demands from people who read newspapers like the WaPo for opening up this can of worms.

      3. This is what a good idea looks like, government.

    3. Of course! We use the roman alphabet, and english is only the third most used language in the world.
      Either go with binary representation, or Standard Chinese.

  5. Flash mob in 30 minutes in front of TV Land offices for re-running the Jefferson’s!!

    Who’s with me?

  6. Stonewall Jackson’s first name was Tom.

    Mr. Colicchio better keep going with his renaming thing.

    1. No more listening to the Jackson Five.

      1. Samuel L. Jackson now yells exclusively at himself.

    2. That was seen by me.

  7. Sounds like a business opportunity.

  8. Pretty much all sports are off limits now I guess.

    There are a lot of Jackson’s/ Jefferson’s/ Lee’s/ on the backs of jerseys. I feel like a racist just typing this. Makes my skin crawl.

    1. And this is right out, apparently.

      1. Thanks for brightening my day. Excelent!

  9. Racism and belief in phrenology were hardly fringe things at the turn of the century. What’s so special about these two guys?

    1. The passing of time, and the ascendancy of socialists in the media.

    2. What if racism was never really any worse or better throughout history?

      Would be awesome to find out that people were people and there were fringe elements all along. Turns out Politicians have been pimping this bullshit for money since the invention of politics.

  10. “I have a fairly liberal persona”

    “But on the inside I’m a raging white supremacist.”

    1. That caught my eye, too. I grew up in Southern California where you can’t really avoid being exposed to media people and entertainers, and the disconnect that most of them experience between their “image” and their realities can be quite striking.

      I read somewhere that when Paul Weller started the Jam, he wanted to try to stand out from other punk bands by being politically conservative, because the others leaned vaguely left but for no real reason. He found that he couldn’t get people interested that way, so he went the other way and marketed himself as a hyper-politically aware socialist.

      But it was actually just marketing.

      1. Weird. I like The Jam a lot and have never heard (nor given) two shits about their politics. I’m sure glad that kind of posturing isn’t done any more!

        1. I like the Jam a lot, too – I don’t generally get too worked up about artists’ politics, because they’re generally insincere and often idiots about everything outside of their creative sphere.

          By the time the Style Council got to Internationalists, though, I just couldn’t take it anymore. Don’t sit there with your collection of $6k guitars, your diamond jewelry, and lecture me about poverty.

  11. So, Take me back to Fowler & Wells
    No, you can’t go back to Fowler & Wells
    Been a long time gone, Oh Fowler & Wells
    Why did Fowler & Wells get the works?
    That’s nobody’s business but the Jerks

    1. If you have a date at Fowler & Wells
      She’ll be waiting at Temple Court.

  12. A lot of stuff was used to justify racism.

    1. I know. I hear black people don’t like white people because they voted for someone and are related by race to people who once owned slaves 150 years ago.

  13. Well, it’s in Manhattan, who cares?
    Just shut it down because there might be violence there sometime, maybe.

    1. You know it already has rats.

  14. Temple Court? Sticking it to the Jews with a non-kosher restaurant that appropriates the word “Temple”. And “Court”? You mean like a basketball court, the only place where all the racists think all blacks are good? Or “Court” like a king’s court, where the patriarchy reigned supreme in the bad old days? Congratulations you Nazi – anti-Semitic, racist and sexist all at the same time.

  15. We had a street and district named after a local city founder and known Klansman, but the city was too cheap to change any signage so they found another guy with the same last name who had never even set foot in this state and just said “Okay it’s named after this guy now.”

    1. A lot of stuff happened in the past.

      One day people might discuss openly what a massive injustice it is that certain people get into colleges because of their color while others who may be more deserved, due to merit, do not get to go to that school.

      Never mind, two wrongs make a right in idiocracy.

      1. We already talk about how until recently in the entire history of colleges people mostly had to have white skin to get in.

        1. Maybe one day the color of the applicant’s skin will matter less.

          1. I’m telling you this as a friend. There are few tactics of political discourse more repugnant than someone whoring out Martin Luther King for a bullshit right-wing opinion that he wouldn’t have shared with you.

            1. There’s good money in handing out goodies based on race. Very good money.

              1. Even a presidential pardon under the right circumstances.

            2. There are few tactics of political discourse more repugnant than someone whoring out Martin Luther King for a bullshit right-wing opinion that he wouldn’t have shared with you.

              Query me this:

              Would or would not MLK agree with the following sentiment:

              “A person should be judged on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.”

              1. But there’s an understood “Thus MLK agrees with me that there should be no race-consciousness in public policy,” which is practically slanderous.

                1. Once again, we are reminded that Obama could not hold MLK’s teleprompter in delivering a speech.

                2. But there’s an understood “Thus MLK agrees with me that there should be no race-consciousness in public policy,” which is practically slanderous.

                  What is it, exactly, that you have decided I am arguing?

                  1. If I’m being most generous, you’re arguing John Roberts’s line “The way to end racial discrimination is to stop discriminating based on race,” a spark of insight he no doubt came to at one of his children’s soccer games in The Hamptons, where he learned about diversity.

        2. in the entire history of colleges people mostly had to have white skin to get in.

          And, actually, the ancient colleges in Persia would like a word with you . . .

          1. Funny – Tony jumped on me for pointing out his disagreement with MLK, but glanced right over my pointing out his racist assumption that the only colleges in the world were founded by White People.

            Go figure.

            1. Because it was an obtuse point to make as you well know.

              1. Why is it obtuse to point out, contrary to your assertion, that the first and most enduring institutions of higher learning were founded by non-white people?

    2. See also, King County Washington. Which suddenly was named after MLK rather than its original namesake.

  16. Of course he changes the name

    1. He gets noticed by the SJW crowd in NYC

    2. He gets a wright up in the press about the new name

    So win/win and I doubt if he really cared much about the old name. Probably picked it because he could not think of anything else

    1. Yep. Smart marketing. Capitalize on the herd mentality.
      The idiot horde is clamoring to give their money away.

  17. “I have a fairly liberal persona and never in a million years would consider myself a racist…”

    Totally racist.

    1. Yeah – Joss Whedon also has a “Feminist Persona.”

      1. Serious question, is it ‘anti-feminist’ to cheat on ones wife?

        If so, what is it when the wife cheats on her husband?

        1. Serious question, is it ‘anti-feminist’ to cheat on ones wife?

          Not in my opinion, no – in fact, my wife and I were just discussing this non-sequitur the other night in relation to this story. It’s more “anti-feminist” in the modern, Jezebel sense of “bad thing happened to a woman.”


          I think there is something to the observation that Whedon grafts scenes of waifish girls kicking ass onto narratives of damaged and emotionally fragile women who need to be saved by strong, rational men and calls it “Feminism.”

          You should look into Whedon’s proposed script for Wonder Woman. It’s an embarrassment of witless pandering.

          Just further riffing on the theme of “Persona” vs. “Actual Person.”

        2. The cheating part wasn’t anti-feminist, it was using his position in Hollywood to coerce women to sleep with him to advance their careers.

          Sorta like politicians doing it with interns.

      2. And an ex-wife who totally isn’t making any of this up as she airs their dirty laundry in Hollywood gossip rags.

        1. I read her essay, and it honestly doesn’t sound like she’s making anything up. He comes across as a Grade-A douche.

          1. I agree. Using the Title IX “preponderance of evidence” standard, I believe what she says.

            1. And I would bet cash money that in any other context, Whedon would completely agree with that standard.

      3. I thought Joss Whedon divorced his wife for, quote “not being a hot teenage dominatrix.”

        /just a joke

    2. If Tommy boy thinks he gets to decide if he’s a racist, he’s an idiot. His melanin content indicates he’s just to the left of Bull Connor, since it is know that all white people are inherently racist.

      Plenty of non-racists have been branded as racists for not knowing the obscure rules of the “we’re all racists now” game.

  18. “hereditarily aquisitive, deceitful, and destructive”

    You know who else believes in hereditary a[c]quisitiveness [sic], deceitfulness and destructiveness?

    1. Tolkien?

  19. Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken

    Never fucking heard of it.

  20. How long do I have to wait for the Democratic Party to change its name?

  21. I am having a hard time finding my outrage here. So he wants to change the name of his restaurant because of some vague and distant connection to phrenology. That’s fine, he can do what he likes with his property. I’m not really in a position to judge his decision.

  22. Temple? As in….the Knights Templar? The most feared Crusaders, holy warriors against the oppressed Persians?

    THAT Temple?

  23. “This new restaurant, Temple Court, mocks the most sacred part of our Jewish heritage. The memory of the destruction of the Temple is highly triggering, and for some Italian guy whose name I can’t even pronounce to try to make money of this heritage is offensive in the extreme.

    “The blintzes were OK.”

    -Restaurant review, Jerusalem Daily Planet

  24. “If you disrespect our editorial agenda, you’ll get *new* bumps on your head for the phrenologists to examine, capisce?”

    -New York Times motto

  25. Perhaps more than many libertarians, I’m sympathetic to renaming of places and names as a way of righting past wrongs

    No shit. Gee, I wonder why that could be possible be?

  26. When the Left demands FDR statues to be torn down and streets named after him renamed, I might humor their asinine arguments. After all, he refused to help Jews and interned the Japanese.

    Wonder if these snowflakes have ever asked what monuments could stand under their demands. Everybody has “problems”. I used to think China’s Cultural Revolution could not happen here.

    Clearly I was wrong.

  27. But anything that fucks with that bald dipshit amuses me. Fuck Colicchio.

  28. New Orleans has just re-opened a DIXIE BEER factory that has been out of business for decades, I think. RACIST beer! Hmmm, I think I’ll have one right now.

  29. I love the irony of this comment for a different reason than has already been mentioned…

    “I have a fairly liberal persona and never in a million years would consider myself a racist, so it never crossed my mind.”

    If you know anything about the history of phrenology, it was a tool of the LIBERAL LEFT. As the left have all seemingly (conveniently?) forgotten, they were the majority of the pro-slavery posse and in fact, they used phrenology to support their position.

    1. Why should any of us care who supported this idea, or why? If you are pissed off at liberals, at least confine that to the present era. Nobody has time or energy to debate political issues across the whole of history. Maybe there is a history of racial bias forum where you can post this.

  30. So what dynamics are they “putting into play”? You ask the question but don’t respond to it. If you have a perspective to advance, a viewpoint to support, then DO SO. Don’t sprinkle a dash of dubiousness on the end of the article and call it good. Apparently you think that bad things will happen if such changes are made; what ARE those bad things, pray tell?
    Collicchio’s action to change the name recognizes that clinging to the past (the prior name of the restaurant) may prove offensive to customers who he wants to attract in the present. That’s a pragmatic choice. It’s also an attempt to broaden the pool of potential customers for his restaurant. I don’t understand what you think is wrong with this change; could you be more explicit about it, please?

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