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15 Forgotten Niceties We Should Bring Back

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Daily life in the 21st century is a lot more casual than it was in our grandparents’ and great grandparents’ day. We’ve traded suits and ties for t-shirts and jeans, ornate calligraphy-inscribed invitations for casual emails, and hand-written letters for emoji-filled texts. But while some of the niceties of days past may feel outdated and unnecessary, others might just be worth bringing back. 

1. HAT TIPPING

Nowadays, we greet each other with a quick hello, or if we’re feeling particularly formal, a handshake. But the seemingly outdated tip of the hat—which originated as a way for knights to display friendliness—is a fun, formal way to show respect. Plus, if you’re feeling a cold coming on, a quick tip of the hat in lieu of a handshake is a good way to avoid spreading germs.

2. WAITING TO SPEAK

When we’re excited about a conversation topic, or feel like we have something important to add, it’s easy to get carried away and interrupt the person who’s speaking. But back in 1918, one etiquette guide warned, “Interruption of the speech of others is a great sin against good breeding.” Today, interruptions aren’t an unforgivable social faux pas—and to some degree, they’re considered a normal part of lively conversation. But it’s a good idea to do your best to wait your turn to speak, since interrupting can give the impression you’re not listening closely, and may even be interpreted as a sign of disrespect.

3. SOCIAL CALLS

Feeling overwhelmed by your social obligations? Back in the Victorian era, people had a pretty great solution: social calls. Between 3 and 5 p.m., women would schedule “morning calls,” allowing friends (and often suitors) to drop in for a chat. Much like a professor’s office hours today, these social calls would let people casually stop by at their convenience and allow women to relax at home between engagements. Of course, the gender dynamics of social calls could use a little 21st century updating, but imagine how easy it would be if, instead of rushing from place to place, you encouraged friends to drop by during set hours?

4. GREETING THE HOST OR HOSTESS

“On entering a crowded room, a well-mannered man seeks first the hostess,” suggests an advice book from 1869, “He endeavors to be blind and deaf to all familiar faces and voices until he has presented himself to the lady of the house—he then bows.” Nowadays, you might skip the bow—unless you’re feeling fancy—but you can still express your gratitude for the invite by greeting your host or hostess at the start of a party and making it a point to thank them for their hospitality.

5. FLOWERS AT THE DINNER TABLE

In 1891, an upscale New York City restaurant published an advice column on how to properly set a table for a dinner gathering. While much of their advice was presented as general guidelines, not strict rules, they were adamant about one thing: “Flowers should never be absent from the dinner table.” Their advice makes sense—after all, flowers are a cheap and easy way to spruce up your table for a dinner party. Or, as the restaurant explained, “No matter how homely, they add to the picturesqueness of the feast.”

6. SENDING AN RSVP

In the era of social media invites, the RSVP has fallen out of style for everything but the most formal occasions. But one 1915 etiquette book shares a piece of good advice: “All invitations that are plainly limited to a certain number of guests ... should be answered at once, in order that vacancies may be filled,” the book explains. “Whether the invitation is accompanied with the request for a reply or not, all thoughtful people will recognize the propriety.” While there’s no need to RSVP for a large or informal party, any smaller occasion like a dinner or intimate gathering—even if the invite is delivered online—deserves an RSVP.

7. HANDWRITTEN THANK-YOU CARDS …

Show your gratitude for anything from a birthday party to a job interview with a handwritten note. Sending a card via snail mail might feel old fashioned, but it’s a gesture that won’t soon be forgotten. Unlike a text or email, the classic thank-you card is unlikely to be buried by other messages—plus, it’s an easy way to show how much of an impression someone’s act of kindness made on you.

8. … AND LETTERS, IN GENERAL

Though we have other means of communication, a letter, written by hand, remains an excellent way to let someone know you’re thinking of them. One 1904 book on the etiquette of correspondence recommends writing in black ink on paper in “shades of pale lavender, green, blue, buff, and pearl gray.”

9. SPEAKING CLEARLY ON THE PHONE

In the cell phone era, we’re just as likely to make an important phone call on a noisy public street as we are from the quiet solitude of a home or office. But we really should pay a little more attention to what the person on the other end of the line might be hearing. In the past, when telephone reception was a little fuzzier, phone companies and advice books recommended everything from keeping the phone exactly one and a half inches from your face, to making sure to move your mustache hairs away from the phone receiver while speaking. While neither of those recommendations are likely to help much today, the sentiment of the advice still applies: Make sure you’re speaking clearly when you talk on the phone, and do your best to call from a quiet location to ensure your voice is heard.

10. PUNCTUALITY

When it comes to attending a dinner party, there’s no such thing as “fashionably late.” As one old etiquette book explains, “It is proper to arrive from five to fifteen minutes before the hour mentioned in the invitation, allowing time to pay respects to the host and hostess, without haste of manner, before the dinner is announced.” Take a note from 1915 and arrive at dinners a little bit early to keep everything moving at a leisurely pace.

11. CLASSY CONVERSATION

“It is said that one can tell during a conversation that lasts not longer than a summer shower whether or not a man is cultivated,” explains one 1921 book of etiquette. “Often it does not take even so long, for a raucous tone of voice and grossly ungrammatical or vulgar expressions brand a man at once as beyond the pale of polite society.” While you probably won’t offend anyone with a grammatical slip-up these days, it’s still a good idea to keep conversations free of bad language or an overly raucous tone—especially if you’re in a professional setting.

12. TIPPING HOTEL EMPLOYEES

While it’s common practice to tip the porter who carries your bag, or the employee who cleans your room, one 1921 etiquette guide recommends tipping anyone who assists you during your stay at a hotel. After all, it makes sense to show gratitude for good service wherever it occurs. “At a hotel … remember the hall-boy, the chamber-maid, the porter, and the waiter in the dining room,” the book recommends, concluding that hotel visitors should tip those who “serve [them] in any way.”

13. BOWING TO PARENTS

Bringing back bowing as a formal greeting would undoubtedly help us all feel like sophisticated ladies and gentlemen. And encouraging little kids to bow to their parents just sounds plain adorable. That’s exactly what one 1856 children’s etiquette book recommended, telling their young readers, “If you pass by your parents at any place, where you see them, either by themselves or with company, always bow to them.”

14. OFFERING GUESTS A BATH

While we’ve focused primarily on the forgotten niceties of the 19th and early 20th centuries, this one comes to us across the millennia: In Ancient Greece it was considered rude not to offer guests a bath and clean clothes as soon as they arrived for a visit. Today, that rule makes little sense for a friend who’s just come to visit from down the street, but it’s a nice custom for friends or family visiting from afar.

15. GIFT-GIVING

Nowadays, we usually only give gifts on birthdays and holidays—but back in the day, gift-giving was much more common. One 1921 book of etiquette recommended sending a small gift after any party or gathering hosted at someone’s home. “After the visit the guest may send some little gift in appreciation of the hospitality enjoyed,” the book explains. “A bit of household linen, a book, flowers, or candy are most appropriate.”

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Courtesy Maxie B's
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Food
25 Cupcake Bakeries You've Got to Try
Courtesy Maxie B's
Courtesy Maxie B's

While it's difficult to improve upon perfection, bakers are constantly putting new twists on cupcakes. These bakeries showcase the latest trends and the classic style we all know and love.

1. BAKED & WIRED // WASHINGTON, D.C.

A chocolate cupcake from Baked & Wired in Washington, D.C.
m01229, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Baked & Wired is where Georgetown locals go when they’re hankering for something sweet. In 2001, owners Tony and Teresa Velazquez were running a graphics studio out of the same location when they realized they wanted to expand to baked goods and coffee (hence the name Baked & Wired). They offer a variety of unique “cakecup” flavors with equally unique names, like the Pretty Bitchin’, Chocolate Cupcake of Doom (above), and Uniporn and Rainho. They also offer a vegan Oreo cakecup.

2. THE COPPER HEN CAKERY & KITCHEN // MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA

A blueberry muffin topped with frosting and a piece of bacon from The Copper Hen.
Courtesy The Copper Hen

The Copper Hen—a restaurant and wedding venue that serves farm-to-table food and desserts—offers a variety of cupcakes, including miniatures, individual-sized cakes in mason jars you can keep, and cakes that come with a pipette of booze for infusing. Two must-tries are the top selling Champagne Cupcake and the Bacon Blueberry Breakfast Cupcake, a streusel crumb cake layered with bacon and blueberries (as if we needed an excuse to have cupcakes for breakfast). The Copper Hen also sells a chocolate gluten-free cupcake with buttercream frosting.

3. MUDDY’S BAKE SHOP // MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE

Two trays of cupcakes from Muddy's Bake Shop.
Kat Gordon

Muddy’s Bake Shop has two locations in Memphis and East Memphis, plus a “secret kitchen,” closed to the public, where they hold classes and pop-up shops. This small-batch, home-style bakery cares about making their community a better place by using sustainable practices and supporting local charities. Owner Kat Gordon says the cupcake that started it all is her best-selling Prozac—a classic devil’s food chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream frosting. If you’re into making cupcakes but hate doing dishes, Muddy's will ship you a DIY kit featuring the Prozac and Capote cupcakes. The kit includes six plain cupcakes in each flavor, two bags of frosting, and sprinkles.

4. KYRA’S BAKE SHOP // LAKE OSWEGO, OREGON

A chocolate cupcake topped with caramel popcorn and frosting.
Courtesy Kyra's Bakery

Every item at Kyra’s Bake Shop—the only four-time winner of Food Network’s Cupcake Wars—is 100 percent gluten-free. The menu is updated monthly and posted on the website so customers can plan their visits around the featured cupcake flavors. Owner Kyra Bussanich recommends trying the PMS, a chocolate cake filled with salted caramel, dipped in chocolate ganache, and topped with marshmallow meringue and peanut butter buttercream frosting. But check the menu because, she says, “it only happens once a month.” You can purchase Kyra’s recipe book, Sweet Cravings, to bake all of her award-winning cupcakes and other treats at home.

5. FOREVER SWEET BAKERY // NORWALK, CONNECTICUT

Push pop cupcakes of various flavors from Forever Sweet Bakery.
Courtesy Forever Sweet Bakery

Locals have voted Forever Sweet Bakery the area’s best bakery four years in a row. Forever Sweet specializes in custom cakes and serves all kinds of mouthwatering cupcake flavors, from Beer Batter Bacon to Banana Honey Cinnamon. You can walk into their shop to purchase a treat from the case, or you can order ahead for one of their “outside the box” styles, like a cupcake push-pop—vanilla cake layered between globs of frosting that will be sure to make you feel like a kid again.

6. CUPCAKE SUSHI // KEY WEST, FLORIDA

A cupcake that looks like a piece of sushi.
Courtesy Cupcake Sushi

These bite-sized, patent-pending cupcakes are hand-rolled and can be eaten with chopsticks, just like real sushi. Owner Lori Shubert started Cupcake Sushi after trying to create a smaller cupcake that didn’t lose flavor. Since traditional paper tends to dry out the cake, she experimented with scooping out the center of normal cupcakes and rolling her buttercream frosting around it. These sweet treats are offered only in Florida at select retail locations for now, but the company will soon offer franchise opportunities. You can also order these little gems online—Shubert recommends trying the Key Lime, Triple Chocolate, and Red Velvet.

7. DIA DOCE // WEST CHESTER, PENNSYLVANIA

A chocolate cupcake topped with a piece of brownie and chocolate sauce from Dia Doce bakery.
Courtesy Dia Doce

Dia Doce (“Sweet Day” in Portuguese) has won numerous local awards, including “Best of the Main Line,” and also took first place on the Food Network show Cupcake Wars. You can see their green cupcake truck at local festivals or pop into their brick-and-mortar location in West Chester. Sustainability is important to owner Thais da Silva Viggue, so the shop uses seasonal ingredients whenever possible. Dia Doce has created more than 100 unusual cupcakes, from Lemon Basil to Cereal and Milk to Waffle Cone. That last one features vanilla cake with a fudge center, salted caramel frosting, and a garnish of a waffle drizzled with a bittersweet ganache and rainbow sprinkles.

8. NOTHING BUNDT CAKES // VARIOUS LOCATIONS

Delicious, bundt-cake shaped cupcakes on a tray.
Courtesy Nothing Bundt Cakes

Nothing Bundt Cakes was started in 1997 by two friends, Dena Tripp and Debbie Shwetz. They began baking cakes for friends and family, and they received so many compliments that they realized they could launch an entire bakery. While their signature items are full-size bundt cakes, they do offer bite-sized Bundtinis and mini bundt cakes called Bundtlets. You have to try the Chocolate Chocolate Chip— with more than 220 bakeries throughout the country, you might be lucky enough to find a location within driving distance.

9. BAKED DESSERT CAFE // BERLIN, MARYLAND

Cupcake bombs from Baked Dessert Cafe.
Courtesy of Baked Dessert Cafe

Baked is a made-from-scratch bakery that produces a whole line of delicious items, but customers rave about the cafe's cupcake bombs—an all-natural twist on the popular cake pop (which are usually dipped in artificially-flavored chocolate). They offer a few standard flavors every day, like the popular Chocolate Cake with chocolate icing, and rotate in a few seasonal flavors (like fall's Apple Spice).

10. NADIA CAKES // PALMDALE, CALIFORNIA

A container of four cupcakes from Nadia Cakes.
m01229, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Owner Abby Jimenez opened her first Nadia Cakes in Palmdale in 2009, and since then, has won a number of awards and opened two Minnesota stores in Maple Grove and Woodbury. Nadia Cakes offers cupcakes that are both whimsical and delicious (there's even one called Unicorn Barf that looks surprisingly tasty). Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to visit when the featured flavor is Caramel Red Velvet Junkyard, a moist red velvet cupcake filled with fudge and topped with caramel buttercream, caramel and chocolate drizzle, M&M’s, Oreo and red velvet crumbs, rainbow sprinkles, and a mini Oreo.

11. MAXIE B’S // GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA

A side-by-side photo of Maxie B's s'more cupcake—one whole, one cut in half.
Courtesy Maxie B's

Maxie B’s began in 1985 as a yogurt shop but evolved into the cute bakery that it is today. Named after the owners’ pugs, this shop offers dog treats (pupcakes!) as well as people treats. Oozing with the southern charm you would expect from a North Carolina bakery, they are best known for their layered cakes, but have a scrumptious assortment of pies and, of course, cupcakes. The cupcake menu changes seasonally, and all of Maxie B's items are always made from scratch with locally sourced ingredients. Some seasonally popular varieties to try are the S’mores, the Streuseled Sweet Potato, and the Harry Potter-inspired Butterbeer. They also offer southern flavors like King Cake, Sweet Tea, and Mint Julep.

12. HUASCAR & CO. BAKESHOP // NEW YORK CITY

A creme brulee cupcake from Huascar & Co.
Erin McCarthy

Huascar & Co., located in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York City, is owned by Chef Huascar Aquino—the only NYC baker, so far, to have won Cupcake Wars. The bakery uses the freshest ingredients to craft its cupcakes; there are 19 flavors served every day, with many stuffed decadently with cream. You can expect two to three additional flavors that will rotate with the seasons. One of their most popular cupcakes is the Crème Brûlée, a vanilla bean cake with vanilla bean crème brûlée filling, vanilla icing, and a sugar crust that is torched when you order it.

13. HAPPYCAKES:) CUPCAKERY // MOREHEAD CITY, NORTH CAROLINA

The Cookie Dough Cupcake from Happycakes.
Courtesy of Happycakes:)

Happycakes is an award-winning bakery located in Morehead City (a second location in Cary, North Carolina, is opening soon). They use all-natural ingredients and avoid food dyes and artificial flavors. Every cupcake in the shop is made fresh each morning, and the flavors change daily; there's even a schedule on the Happycakes website so you can time your visit. One of the most popular flavors is Cookie Dough, a vanilla cake with a homemade cookie dough center, swirled in a vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream frosting, and topped with a homemade cookie. And don’t feel guilty about buying a dozen, because 10 percent of every sale is donated to a charity that fights sex trafficking in the Philippines. Charitable and delicious.

14. PINKITZEL CUPCAKES & CANDY // TULSA AND OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA

The interior of Pinkitzel Cupcakes & Candy in Oklahoma City.
Elizabeth Albert, Flickr, CC BY SA 2.0

Pinkitzel's two locations are full of eye candy and actual candy. The whimsical and colorful spaces are exactly what husband-and-wife owners Christa and Jonathan were hoping to achieve. Since opening in 2010, their shops have served more than half a million cupcakes and has become one of Oklahoma’s top destinations on TripAdvisor. If you’re lucky enough to live nearby, you can host your next birthday party or bridal shower there and expect to blow your guests away. Almost every cupcake is topped with candy and sprinkles, and flavors range from Bubblegum Cupcake to Chocolate Turtle Cheesecake to Peanut Butter Nutella.

15. MOLLY’S CUPCAKES // ILLINOIS, NEW YORK, AND IOWA

Two cupcakes from Molly's Cupcakes in Chicago.
Jaysin Trevino, Flickr // CC BY SA 2.0

John Nicolaides’s third grade teacher, Miss Molly, baked cupcakes for her students’ birthdays; now, he’s giving back with his bakery, Molly’s Cupcakes, which donates a portion of its profits to local schools. Visitors can pick from pre-prepared cupcakes, like the cream-filled peach cobbler (vanilla cake, cinnamon peach puree, brown sugar streusel, homemade whipped cream, sliced peach), or go the DIY route, choosing their own base and frosting, and finishing up at the Sprinkle Station. You can find Molly’s in New York, in Des Moines and Sioux City, Iowa, and in two locations in Chicago.

16. BREDENBECK’S BAKERY & ICE CREAM PARLOR // PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA

Four Strawberry Champagne cupcakes from Bredenbeck's.
Courtesy Bredenbeck's

If you’re a Pennsylvania native, you may be familiar with this family-owned bakery, which was founded back in 1889. Bredenbeck’s is a popular choice when it comes to Philadelphia delicacies like butter cake and German cookies, and their cupcakes made fresh from scratch every day are a local favorite. They favor quality, not quantity, when it comes to their cupcake flavors: You'll find only a few varieties in the shop at a time, but they do rotate seasonal and holiday favorites. One of their most popular cupcakes is the Strawberry Champagne, a vanilla cake filled with strawberry champagne compote and topped in strawberry buttercream frosting.

17. TROPHY CUPCAKES AND PARTY // SEATTLE, WASHINGTON

The sign of the cupcake bakery Trophy Cupcakes and Party.
Jessica Spengler, Flickr // CC BY SA 2.0

At Trophy's five Seattle locations, customers can buy cupcakes from the case or pre-order a themed dozen. Try the “I Love the 80’s,” which features cupcakes topped with cassette tapes, roller skates, and rainbows. For a limited time, customers can pre-order the “Trophy’s 10th Birthday,” a funfetti cake with vanilla buttercream frosting, topped with a macaron, lollipop, marshmallow, meringue kiss, white chocolate-covered pretzel, animal cookies, cotton candy, donut holes, and Trophy’s own blue candies. Whew. At $12.50 a pop, they’re worth every penny.

18. HOUSE OF CUPCAKES // PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY

House of Cupcakes' red velvet cupcakes.
Courtesy House of Cupcakes

When House of Cupcakes won Cupcake Wars, the line of customers went out the door of their Princeton shop, and the bakery soon needed to expand. They opened two more New Jersey locations in East Brunswick and in Clifton, and in January 2018 they will be opening stores in Dubai and Saudi Arabia. They offer cupcake classes and parties where you can bake and decorate your own cupcakes. Every day they serve 65 different flavors, and owner Ruthie Bzdewka says that the Red Velvet is their most popular cupcake of them all. In addition to all those cupcakes, they also offer cookies and chocolate-covered pretzels. You can find their food truck traveling around New Jersey every weekend; check their Facebook page to find out where they will be.

19. SUGAR MAMA’S BAKESHOP // AUSTIN, TEXAS

The exterior of Sugar Mama's Bakery in Austin, Texas.
Rachel Kramer Bussel, Flickr // CC BY SA 2.0

Sugar Mama’s is owned by husband-and-wife team Olivia and Steve O’Neal. They have a long list of awards and accomplishments, including having made a birthday cake for rapper Kanye West. The owners use locally sourced and Fair Trade-certified ingredients to create a variety of delicious goodies—including 12 different flavors of cupcakes that change daily. If you’re a baklava fan, pick up Harlow’s Honey Baklava—a buttermilk honey cake with Round Rock honey filling and cinnamon buttercream frosting topped with a phyllo puff.

20. FROST CUPCAKE FACTORY // CAMPBELL, CALIFORNIA

A delicious-looking chocolate cupcake topped with shaved chocolate from Frost Cupcake Factory
Courtesy Frost Cupcake Factory

Frost Cupcake Factory sells a handpicked selection from 42 standard flavors throughout the week in addition to seasonal varieties. The two most popular are Rose Velvet and Burnt Almond, and they also offer cake pops, cupcake push pops, and mason jar cupcakes, in addition to other baked goods. Frost customizes cupcakes for corporate clients too; if you head out to a San Jose Sharks game, you may find them in the concession stands.

21. LOVE KUPCAKES // PORTLAND, MAINE

A plate of cupcakes from Love Kupcakes.
Courtesy Love Kupcakes

Love Kupcakes is a bakery and food truck based in Portland that strives to use sustainable practices and all-natural ingredients. They serve traditional, vegan, and gluten-free varieties of cupcakes in an array of sweet flavors like Strawberry Basil, Funfetti, and Snickerdoodle, and introduce seasonal options too. Pick up their best-seller, the Chocolate Sea-Salted Caramel, the next time you're in Maine. Look for their cupcake truck around town and at local festivals (follow them on social media for locations) or rent it for your wedding or special event.

22. WICKED GOOD CUPCAKES // BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS

Cupcakes in mason jars from Wicked Good Cupcakes.
Courtesy Wicked Good Cupcakes

Tracey Noonan and Danielle Vilagie are a mother-daughter dream team that started Wicked Good Cupcakes after taking cake decorating classes together. After getting requests to ship their cupcakes from their Cohasset, Massachusetts shop, they came up with the idea of putting the treats in mason jars to prolong their freshness and durability. They were featured on Shark Tank and teamed up with Kevin O’Leary to take their business to the next level—today, they're a super-successful gourmet online retailer. They have a variety of flavors, including Maple Bacon Whiskey and Sea Salted Caramel, that can be ordered online or found in their Boston-area bakery.

23. BLOOMING LOTUS // MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN

A tray of Blooming Lotus cupcakes.
Courtesy of Blooming Lotus

If there is such thing as a healthy cupcake, Blooming Lotus makes it. This bakery is grain-, processed sugar-, dairy-, soy-, and egg-free, and the nut and seed flours they use are high in protein. (Basically, you can eat one of their cupcakes and pretend you’re eating a protein bar.) Blooming Lotus was started after the owner and her sister were diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and they adopted restricted diets. Their baked goods have developed quite a following in stores around the Milwaukee area. They offer three flavors of cupcake: Chocolate Brownie with chocolate frosting; Carrot Cake with toffee frosting; and Spice Cake with toffee frosting.

24. JOZETTIE’S CUPCAKES // MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA

A tray of cupcakes from JoZettie's Cupcakes.
Courtesy of JoZettie's Cupcakes

Everything made in JoZettie’s kitchen is made fresh and from scratch every day. The owner, Mrs. Ida, says she decided to open her shop when she walked by a vacant building with a “for rent” sign on it. Today, JoZettie’s has two locations in Montgomery, where customers can choose from a variety of unusual flavors, including Pineapple Upside-Down Cake and Caramel Pecan Cheesecake. The bakery's best-selling yummies are Sweet Potato, Key Lime, Red Velvet, and Red Velvet Cheesecake, all topped with cream cheese icing. Follow the bakery on social media to discover the featured flavor of the day.

25. JONES BROS. CUPCAKES // OMAHA, NEBRASKA

A Jones Bros Sweet and Salty cupcake next to a box.
Zane Mulligan, Flickr // CC BY ND 2.0

Jones Bros. Cupcakes—a full bakery and ice cream shop—is a true family business: It's run by brothers Brad and Bill Jones, along with their parents, Jerry and Elizabeth. The shop offers a rotating variety of cupcake flavors as well as specials and seasonal tastes that pop up on the weekends. If you're visiting, try the best-selling Sweet and Salty, a chocolate cake filled with caramel and sea salt, then topped with chocolate buttercream and a caramel drizzle. Hit their drive-through window for extra-fast service.

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entertainment
14 Fascinating Facts About Saturday Night Fever
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

We can tell by the way you use your walk that you're a fan of Saturday Night Fever, the 1977 blockbuster that made John Travolta a mega-star and brought disco into the mainstream. (Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of opinion.) To enhance your appreciation of what was the highest-grossing dance movie of all time until Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010) and Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike (2012) beat it, here's a groovy list of facts to celebrate the film's 40th birthday. Put on your boogie shoes and read! 

1. THERE WAS A PG-RATED VERSION OF IT, TOO.

Saturday Night Fever was an instant hit when it was released in December 1977, quickly becoming one of the highest-grossing movies of the year. What's especially impressive is that it did this despite being rated R and thus (theoretically) inaccessible to teenagers, the very audience that a disco movie would (theoretically) appeal to. And so in March 1979, the film was re-released in a PG version, with all the profanity, sex, and violence either deleted or downplayed. This version took in another $8.9 million (about $30 million at 2016 ticket prices), bringing the film's U.S. total to $94.2 million. Both versions were released on VHS and laserdisc, though the R-rated cut didn't become widely available on home video until the DVD upgrade. 

2. IT WAS BASED ON A MAGAZINE ARTICLE THAT TURNED OUT TO BE SEMI-FICTIONAL.

"Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night," a detailed look at the new generation of urban teenagers by British journalist Nik Cohn, was published in New York Magazine in June 1976. The central figure in the article was Vincent, "the very best dancer in Bay Ridge," whose name was changed to Tony Manero for the movie. But years later, Cohn confessed: "[Vincent] is completely made-up, a total fabrication." The styles and attitudes Cohn had described were real, but not the main character. Cohn said he'd only recently arrived in Brooklyn, didn't know the scene well, and based Vincent on a Mod he'd known in London in the '60s.

3. THE BEE GEES HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.

Most of the film had already been shot when music producer-turned-movie producer Robert Stigwood commissioned the Bee Gees to write songs for it. The brothers, only modestly successful at that point and hard at work on their next album, didn't know what the movie was about but cranked out a few tunes in a weekend. They also repurposed several songs they'd been working on, including "Stayin' Alive," a demo version of which was prepared in time to be used in filming the opening "strut" sequence. (You'll notice Travolta struts in sync with the music.) So if the movie's signature songs didn't come until later, what were the cast members listening to when they shot the dance scenes? According to Travolta, it was Boz Scaggs and Stevie Wonder. 

4. THE SOUNDTRACK ALBUM BROKE ALL KINDS OF RECORDS.

With 15 million copies sold in the U.S. alone, Saturday Night Fever was the top-selling soundtrack album of all time before being supplanted by The Bodyguard some 15 years later. It's also the only disco record (so far) to win the Grammy for Album of the Year, and one of only three soundtracks (besides The Bodyguard and O Brother, Where Art Thou?) to win that category. It was the number one album on the Billboard charts for the entire first half of 1978, and stayed on the charts until March 1980, long after the supposed death of disco.

5. THE MOVIE EXTENDED DISCO'S LIFESPAN BY A FEW YEARS.

Disco had been popular enough in the mid-1970s to land multiple disco tunes on the Billboard charts, but by the end of 1977, when Saturday Night Fever came out, the backlash had started and the trend was on its way out. But thanks to the movie (and its soundtrack), not only did disco not die out, it achieved more widespread, mainstream, middle-America success than it ever had before.

6. IT HAS SOME ROCKY CONNECTIONS.


Paramount Pictures

First connection: It was supposed to be directed by John G. Avildsen, whose previous film was Rocky. Ultimately, that didn’t work out and Avildsen was replaced with John Badham a few weeks before shooting began. Second connection: Tony has a Rocky poster on his bedroom wall. Third connection: Saturday Night Fever’s 1983 sequel, Staying Alive, was directed by ... Sylvester Stallone.

7. TRAVOLTA WAS ALREADY SO FAMOUS THAT MAKING THE MOVIE WAS A HASSLE.

Saturday Night Fever made Travolta a movie star, but he was already a teen heartthrob because of the popular sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter, where he played a delinquent teenager with the hilarious and timeless catchphrase "Up your nose with a rubber hose." Still, nobody was prepared for how Travolta's fame would affect the movie, which was to be shot on the streets of Brooklyn. As soon as the neighborhood found out Travolta was there, the sidewalks were swarmed by thousands of onlookers, many of them squealing teenage girls. (Badham said there were also a lot of teenage boys holding signs expressing their hatred for Travolta for being more desirable than themselves.)

Co-star Donna Pescow said, "The fans—oh, my God, they were all over him. It was scary to watch." Badham said, "By noon of the first day, we had to shut down and go home." Since it was nearly impossible to keep the crowds away (or quiet), Badham and the crew resorted to filming in the middle of the night or at the crack of dawn. 

8. THE WHITE CASTLE EMPLOYEES WEREN'T ACTING WHEN THEY LOOKED SHOCKED. 


Paramount Pictures

In the brief scene where Tony, his boys, and Stephanie are loudly eating at White Castle, those were the real burger-flippers, not actors. Badham told them to just go about their business. He also told his actors to cut loose and surprise the White Castlers in whatever way they saw fit. The shot that's in the movie appears to be a reaction to Joey standing on the table and barking, but Badham said it was actually in response to something else: "Double J (actor Paul Pape) pulling his pants down and mooning the entire staff of the White Castle."

9. THE FEMALE LEAD GOT THE PART THANKS TO A SERENDIPITOUS CAB RIDE.

Casting the role of Tony's dance partner, Stephanie, proved difficult. Hundreds of women auditioned, but nobody seemed right. Meanwhile, 32-year-old Karen Lynn Gorney was looking for her big break into show business. As fate would have it, she shared a cab with a stranger who turned out to be producer Robert Stigwood's nephew. He mentioned that his uncle was working on a movie, and Gorney replied, "Oh, am I in it?"— her standard joke whenever she heard about a film being made. The nephew wound up submitting Gorney as a candidate, and the rest is history. 

10. TRAVOLTA’S GIRLFRIEND DIED DURING FILMING.

John Travolta stars in Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Paramount Pictures

Travolta met Diana Hyland on the set of the TV movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, in which she played his mother. (She was 18 years older than him.) They had been dating for six months when Hyland succumbed to breast cancer at the age of 41, after filming just four episodes of her new gig on Eight Is Enough. Travolta was able to leave Saturday Night Fever and fly to L.A. in time to be with her before she died, then had to return to work. 

11. THE COMPOSER HAD TO SCRAMBLE TO REPLACE A NIXED SONG.

For Tony and Stephanie's rehearsal scene about 30 minutes into the movie, Badham had used the song "Lowdown" by Boz Scaggs, going so far as to shoot the scene, including the dialogue, with the song actually playing in the background. (That's usually a no-no, for exactly the reasons you're about to read about.) According to Badham, no sooner had they wrapped the scene than Scaggs' people reached out to say they couldn't use the song after all, as Scaggs was thinking of pursuing a disco project of his own. Badham now had to have the actors re-dub the dialogue (since the version he'd recorded was tainted by "Lowdown"); what's more, he had to find a new song that would fit the choreography and tempo of the dancing. Composer David Shire rose to the occasion, writing a piece of instrumental music that met the specifications, and that’s what we hear in the movie. 

12. THEY MADE UP A DANCE BECAUSE THE CHOREOGRAPHER DIDN'T SHOW UP.

In another rehearsal scene 55 minutes into the movie, Tony and Stephanie do the "tango hustle," which looks like a combination of both of those dances. This was something Travolta and Gorney invented as a matter of necessity: the film's choreographer didn't realize he was supposed to be on the set that day, and the actors didn't have any steps prepared. The tango hustle, alas, never quite caught on.  

13. TONY’S ICONIC WHITE SUIT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE BLACK.

Travolta and Badham both assumed Tony's disco outfit would be black, as men's suits tended to be at the time. Costume designer Patrizia Von Brandenstein convinced them it should be white, partly to symbolize the character's journey to enlightenment but also for practical reasons: a dark suit doesn't photograph very well in a dark discotheque. 

14. TONY’S SUIT WAS LATER SOLD FOR $2000—THEN FOR $145,500.

Von Brandenstein took Travolta to a cheap men's clothing store in Brooklyn (swamped by teenage fans, of course) and bought the suit off the rack—three identical suits, actually, so they wouldn't have to stop filming when one became soaked with Travolta's sweat. Two of the suits disappeared after the movie was finished; the remaining one, inscribed by Travolta, was bought at a charity auction in 1979 by film critic Gene Siskel, who cited Saturday Night Fever as one of his favorite movies. He paid about $2000 for it. In 1995, he sold it for $145,500 to an anonymous bidder through Christie's auction house.

In 2012, after a lengthy search, curators at London's Victoria and Albert Museum found the owner (who still preferred to remain anonymous) and persuaded him to lend it for an exhibit of Hollywood costumes. It is now presumably back in that man's care, whoever he may be. (P.S. Badham says on the 2002 DVD commentary that the suit is on display at the Smithsonian, a tidbit repeated by NPR in 2006 and Vanity Fair in 2007. But they must be mistaken. The suit’s sale in 1995 and rediscovery for the 2012 museum exhibit are verified facts; the suit isn't in the Smithsonian's online catalogue; and finally, a 2007 Washington Post story about the Smithsonian lists the suit as one of the items the museum director wanted to get.)

Additional sources:
John Badham DVD commentary
DVD featurettes

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