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 04, 2011
“Bean soup.”/ “Yes, it’s been soup. But what is it now?” (joke)

An old bean soup joke confuses the words “bean” with “been.” A customer asks “What’s this?” and the waiter replies, “It’s bean soup, sir.” The customer then says, ” I don’t care what it’s been. What is it now?”
The joke has been cited in print since at least December 1876. More recently, the joke was included in the 1937 musical Me and My Girl (revived in London in 1984 and on Broadway in 1986).
28 December 1876, Newport (RI) Daily News, pg. 1, col. 4:
The following conversation took place recently in a hotel: “Waiter?” “Yes, sir.” “What’s this?” “It’s bean soup, sir.” “No matter what it has been—the question is—what is it now?”
Google Books
The Law of Hotel Life;
or, The wrongs and rights of host and guest

By Robert Vashon Rogers
San Francisco, CA: S. Whitney and Co.; Boston, Houghton, Osgood & Co.
Pg. 8:
“What is this?” I asked of the landlord, as he handed me a most suspicious looking fluid.
“It’s bean soup,” he gruffly replied.
“Never mind what it’s been—what is it now?”
I asked a second time. A smile from my wife (Pg. 9—ed.) revealed to me my error, and I saved the astonished man the necessity of a reply.
Google Books
April 1888, The Clinical Reporter (Homeopathic Medical College of Missouri), “Funnygraphs, pg. 156, col. 2:
“WHAT sort of soup is this?” asked one of the St. Louis physicians who attended the late meeting of the Missouri Institute of Homeopathy, of a Kansas City waiter.
“Why, that’s bean soup,” was the reply.
“Don’t doubt it’s been soup, but what the deuce is it now?”
Google Books
June-July 1906, The Boston Cooking-School Magazine, pg. xxiv, col. 2:
A gentleman went into a restaurant and ordered a plate of soup. After a long wait, the waiter brought it in, and placed it before the diner. After examining it, he said to the waiter, “What do you call this stuff? “Bean soup, sir,” replied the waiter. “Yes, I know it’s been soup; but what is it now?”—Titbits.
New York (NY) Times
THEATER; Giddy and Romantic, ‘Me and My Girl’
Published: August 19, 1990
’‘ME AND MY GIRL’’ is a most entrancing feel-good model of the bygone English formula musical, and if anyone doubts its ongoing appeal, just look around. A summer package began performances at the Westport Country Playhouse last Monday. The premiere of the Darien Dinner Theater version was set for Friday, nine days after An Evening Dinner Theater displayed its own production in Elmsford, N.Y.
He’s even better with the role’s verbal banter than its visual business. ‘‘It’s bean soup,’’ he is informed by a chef. ‘‘I don’t care what it’s been,’’ he says. ‘‘What is it now?’’ And he sounds as if he really wants to know.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • Friday, February 04, 2011 • Permalink

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