A Brief History of Hotel William Penn


Hotel William Penn, now known as Omni William Penn Hotel, began construction during the first World War in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This menu stood out to me as a Pennsylvania native, but also because I saw many colleges and universities that I recognized listed in attendance that were labeled to be Presbyterian schools. As a member of the Omni chain today, this hotel is clearly held in high regard, and this project seeks to understand the historical significance of the William Penn Hotel as well as make sense of their events and menus.

PHOTO: Original dining room lounge in Hotel William Penn ptrLIVwilliampenn4013116.jpg

Henry Clay, a local Pittsburgh builder, planned and built the hotel in Pittsburgh in 1916. This city seemed suitable for the hotel because Pittsburgh was dominating the steel industry as well as the commercial scene in America. Clay hoped the hotel would be competitive with those in Europe during this time of global disconnect. Eventually in 1928, Clay sold the hotel which went through a massive renovation to total of 1,600 rooms for guests, making it the largest hotel in the world at this time. It boasted enormous success until the Great Depression hit, forcing the property to be put up for sale once again.

After a series of  owners, it became part of the  Sheraton portfolio in the 1950s. Later,in 1971, the hotel changed to the  Marriott corporation joining the  Westin brand as the William Penn. It remained thus until it’s current owner and namesake, Omni, purchased the hotel in 2001.

IMAGE: Hotel William Penn Circa 1929 WmPennHotel3.JPG

The Omni William Penn Hotel has been a member of Historic Hotels of America since 2010, receiving praise for its timeless elegance. This hotel has also hosted every US President since Theodore Roosevelt.

PHOTO: Omni Hotel William Penn today, maintaining beauty and elegance to be enjoyed and appreciated by folks of all ages. Pitdtn-2880×1870.jpg

Today, the Omni William Penn Hotel is known for its five-star status and remains a shining jewel of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Located centrally in downtown Pittsburgh, this hotel is also easily accessible and offers excellent proximity to other attractions for guests in search of a luxury hotel experience.


The menu selected for this evening was kept quite simple, offering a fixed meal for all attendees.

The opener was a cocktail called the “golden gate cocktail”, which features Falernum, rum, celery, and olive. I was surprised to see an alcoholic offering on this menu considering that it was a religious gathering. According to some research, the Presbyterian Church is typically against the consumption of alcohol.

Falernum is a syrup liqueur that is typically paired with rum, as it features a small amount of rum in it. The syrup features flavors of lime, ginger, almond, and clove. In this case, the falernum added a sweet flavor to the cocktail. It is also quite simple to procure at home, made with rum, lime, ginger, sugar, water, and cloves.

Next on the menu was a mock turtle soup. Mock turtle soup had been around for a considerable time before this event, as it was initially procured in the 18th century with the purpose of imitating green turtle soup. Since it is mocking turtle meat, US recipes at the time tended to use beef brains, though modern recipes today will use ground beef. Because of the time period, either beef brains or ground beef could have been used in this recipe.

The main course offered was Stuffed Roast Mount Vernon Turkey accompanied by cranberry sauce, peas, and potato croquette. Aside from potato croquette, the parts of the main course are all still widely enjoyed in the US today and did not particularly stand out to me. Potato croquette are essentially small fried balls of mashed potato with various other ingredients (bacon, chives, sour cream, in modern cooking). Personally, I think this sounds delicious and would now love to try it. 

Accompanied by the main course as well was a lettuce heart salad with Russian Dressing. Russian dressing is mostly made of mayonnaise and ketchup, with a similar flavor to thousand island. 

The meal concluded with Biscuit Tortoni Cakes, Demi Tasse, and after dinner mints. Biscuit Tortoni Cakes are almond-flavored, made with eggs and heavy cream. They are served in a ramekin, typically accompanied by vanilla ice cream and topped with a cherry. Demi Tasse is espresso, which still remains an after dinner staple in America today.

PHOTO: Page from menu with food listings http://menus.nypl.org/menu_pages/59681/explore


The specific menu chosen for this project is from 1939, when the hotel hosted the Sesquicentennial Fund for Chirstian Education dinner. For those unaware (as myself when I first read the word), sesquicentennial refers to the 115th anniversary of a particular event. This event was directed by the Board of Christian education of the Presbyterian Church of the United States.

IMAGE: Page from menu with event details.http://menus.nypl.org/menu_pages/59681/explore

This Dinner featured many colleges and even seminaries from around the US to discuss funding of Christian-focused learning on campus. Most of these colleges were located on the East Coast, but there were many participants at the event. The purpose of this dinner was to discuss and gather funds for educational institutions that identify as Presbyterian to encourage their involvement and cooperation in the church. 

IMAGE: Page from menu listing educational institutions in attendance. http://menus.nypl.org/menu_pages/59681/explore



Omni William Penn Hotel – Wikipediahttps://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Omni_William_Penn_…

omni william penn hotel history – Pittsburghhttps://www.omnihotels.com › … › Property Details

William Penn Hotel remains regal through its 100 yearshttps://archive.triblive.com › news › william-penn-hotel…



Golden Gate Recipe | Absolut Drinkshttps://www.absolutdrinks.com › drinks › golden-gate

Do the Presbyterians Believe Drinking Alcohol Is a Sin?https://classroom.synonym.com › do-the-presbyterians-bel…


Potato Croquettes – Jo Cookshttps://www.jocooks.com › Recipes

Russian Dressing – Epicurioushttps://www.epicurious.com › recipes › food › views

Biscuit Tortoni | Just A Pinch Recipeshttps://www.justapinch.com › … › Snack › Nut Snackhttps://www.threeofstrong.com/homemade-falernum/

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