Old American Menus
June 17, 2010 8:24 AM   Subscribe

Scans of early 20th-century American menus, courtesy of Colorado College's Tutt Library.
posted by Greg Nog (46 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite

 
wow, it took me a minute to realize that on some of those menus when it says "75" it means 75 CENTS. they only had a period when there is a dollar involved ( 45 vs 1.45)

inflation makes the math part of my brain hurt.
posted by sio42 at 8:35 AM on June 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


Minimum check 10c? I'm outta here!
posted by orme at 8:42 AM on June 17, 2010


This reminds me of the menu collection Jeremiah Tower describes in his book.

Tower rhapsodizes about food — the meals choreographed like great ballets, the menus scored like concertos.

These are weirdly satisfying, just to read.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:45 AM on June 17, 2010


Man, these people sure loved their olives (and, to a lesser extent, pickles and radishes).
posted by uncleozzy at 8:47 AM on June 17, 2010


mmmm Mutton Chops!
posted by lester's sock puppet at 8:52 AM on June 17, 2010


Awesome.

Tutt Library is a pretty cool place, by the way. I had no idea they had online resources like this.
posted by koeselitz at 8:56 AM on June 17, 2010


I wonder if the walls of the family restaurants in those days were all covered with wacky street signs and tools from the 1700s.
posted by bondcliff at 8:56 AM on June 17, 2010 [12 favorites]


You found menus with prices on them? The Acacia Hotel barely even acknowledges the food.
posted by DU at 8:56 AM on June 17, 2010


Wow. Thousand Island dressing is older than I thought.
posted by rachaelfaith at 8:57 AM on June 17, 2010


"We strongly advise against ordering steaks broiled well or extra well done…."

My grandfather never ate there.
posted by yhbc at 9:00 AM on June 17, 2010


I am so stealing the theme (horrible jokes) of the menu for the Grace ME Church for my next party.
posted by cobaltnine at 9:01 AM on June 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


Chilled tomato juice is an appetizer? No giant plate of nachos, no boneless chicken wings? What were they back then, not obese?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:02 AM on June 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


May we suggest...?

Why yes, you may.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:02 AM on June 17, 2010


HA! I've eaten dinner at the Glenarm Hotel, in fact. I love the old map of Denver showing the parks and the former airports. Cool that this sector of central/east Denver hasn't really changed in 70-odd years. Well, ok Lowry / Stapleton are now high end "village condos" instead of airports, but still.
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:03 AM on June 17, 2010


Amazing how much seafood was being eaten up in the mountains. How much did it cost to ship shrimp and oysters to Colorado in the early twentieth century?
posted by octothorpe at 9:11 AM on June 17, 2010


Chilled tomato juice is an appetizer?
That was still fairly standard on mainstream restaurant menus around 1960. Along with half a grapefruit, shrimp cocktail, and fruit cup (right out of a can, usually).
posted by beagle at 9:12 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Howse about some BULLETS with that thar chilli? The fine print on this one is a hoot. Great find gregnog!
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:13 AM on June 17, 2010


Even in the 70's they don't really have item descriptions. When did people start saying things like, "terrified beef with gently melted gruyere wrapped in a whole wheat bun garnished with garden salad elements," in order to describe a cheeseburger?
posted by edbles at 9:18 AM on June 17, 2010


Amazing how much seafood was being eaten up in the mountains. How much did it cost to ship shrimp and oysters to Colorado in the early twentieth century?

Should we tell him now or wait till he pays the check?
posted by hal9k at 9:21 AM on June 17, 2010 [9 favorites]


No glossy full color photos. No "Grand Slam" or "Bloomin' Onion" branding crap. Kids, this was what dining out was like pre-SYSCO.
posted by hal9k at 9:23 AM on June 17, 2010


This is the new wallpaper on my iPod. Thanks Greg Nog.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:24 AM on June 17, 2010


in chatting with my grandma as a kid/teenager, I remember her saying something about olives being viewed as an exotic treat at any fancy restaurant when she was young, and she would always put out relish trays that incorporated olives and celery at any of her social get togethers because of her perception of them as a "fancy treat".

Apparently, back in the early 1900s, one couldn't just pop down to the mercantile for a can of olives, or a bunch of celery; they just weren't all that common. A lot of those menus showing olives/celery on the appetiser list are for upscale places, or annual shindigs where you'd want to have something slightly exotic/fancy on offer.

A century later when you can buy a shrink wrapped flat of a dozen cans of olives for something like $7 at Costco? ... maybe not so much.

I'm also amazed at all the seafood on offer in Denver restaurants back in the day. Granted, they did have trains with iceboxes at that time, but still.

tho this does tie with the fact that there are (to this day) some damn incredible sushi restaurants here on the Front Range, and some of the best seafood places I've EVER eaten at (and I've lived in Maryland and San Francisco both).

Coloradans just have a thing for fish. Fresh caught brook trout grilled at a campfire is quite possibly one of the best things I've ever eaten.
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:28 AM on June 17, 2010


No glossy full color photos. No "Grand Slam" or "Bloomin' Onion" branding crap. Kids, this was what dining out was like pre-SYSCO.

I know, I was like "Where the fuck is pictures of the combo meals? I gotta order everything a la card? FUCK THIS"
posted by Greg Nog at 9:30 AM on June 17, 2010


Amazing how much seafood was being eaten up in the mountains. How much did it cost to ship shrimp and oysters to Colorado in the early twentieth century?

This stood out to me, too. In the 1890s, that had to have been a train trip of several days, with lots of ice. (And wasn't ice expensive?) The oysters don't even seem all that expensive on the menus -- a dozen went for the same price as a steak, basically, and were only slightly more than a two-egg omelet.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:33 AM on June 17, 2010


I sure could go for a Complete Wimpy right now.
posted by crunchland at 9:39 AM on June 17, 2010


American Cheese with Salted Spray? Explain that one to me, please.
posted by mkb at 9:47 AM on June 17, 2010


Hmm, fish cars were a specific kind of rail car starting in the 1870s.
posted by octothorpe at 9:47 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


This menu includes a separate section for "Pre-Volstead Liquors." Awesome.
posted by nestor_makhno at 9:49 AM on June 17, 2010


Menus of the NYPL (previously on MetaFilter).
posted by languagehat at 9:52 AM on June 17, 2010


re: the oysters. There was a long discussion on this - the shipping of oysters, the hunger for oysters during certain time periods - in Kurlansky's 'The Big Oyster.' (The same guy who wrote 'Cod' and 'Salt'.) Someone who's read it more recently than me can probably speak to it, but there was a lot of oysters shipped around as soon as it was feasible.
posted by cobaltnine at 9:54 AM on June 17, 2010


Menu written in fake Western slang: "A shoert histree on Western spaghetti: They clame the Indians tuk this recipe away..."

Fake? um, no, that's phonetic old-skool rancher-speak. Our 73-year-old environmental engineer just came in and handed me an order and chatted about how he's getting a standing desk to help an old hip injury. He's a native rancher, and his land's been in the family for five generations. That is EXACTLY what he sounds like.
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:57 AM on June 17, 2010


Menus of the NYPL (previously on MetaFilter)

Oh man, this stuff geeks me out so hard. Wikipedia has the famous Delmonico's menu from 1899 here.

Thanks, Greg Nog & languagehat.
posted by functionequalsform at 9:59 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


re: salted spray, from what I can tell, they're a variety of cracker, according to an ad for the Vail-Crane Bakery in the 1894 Minutes of the Detroit Annual Conference of the Methodist Episopal Church.
posted by crunchland at 10:00 AM on June 17, 2010


Someone who's read it more recently than me can probably speak to it, but there was a lot of oysters shipped around as soon as it was feasible.

I read it last year, but those details have obviously been wiped from my brain.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:03 AM on June 17, 2010


It's like a mapback, but for a restaurant! I love it!
posted by redsparkler at 11:06 AM on June 17, 2010


Man, I love these.

I've been re-reading The Shining lately, and I was hoping that there might be a menu from the Overlook Hotel (maybe from either of the movies; I could believe that Kubrick would have made one up, even if it were never on camera). King has acknowledged the heavily autobiographical nature of the novel, and there's something about the description of all the food that's left for the Torrances to live off of during the winter that's really striking.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:08 AM on June 17, 2010


These rooms are "something to see" and "something to remember." Oh ho ho, I bet! Oh, wait, they're dead serious.
posted by redsparkler at 11:08 AM on June 17, 2010


"PRE-WAR LIQUORS LOANED BY MRS. SPENCER PENROSE FOR DISPLAY PURPOSES ONLY IN THE BROADMOOR HOTEL TAVERN."

"Oh, honey, let's go see them! They sound terribly interesting. Pre-war!"

"What's the use, Mabel? Liquors you can't drink? It's un-American."
posted by redsparkler at 11:13 AM on June 17, 2010


"BUTTER: Spring Butter, Winter Butter, Good Butter, Tub Butter, Fall Butter, Doubtful Butter, Strong Butter, Weak Butter, Butter Nuts, Butter Milk, None But Her."

Deeeelightful.
posted by redsparkler at 11:17 AM on June 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh man - I remember Bauers! They had the *best* ice cream - and it was a very "fancy" place for lunch, I only went there a few times with my mother when I was little girl.
Great find, gregnog!
posted by dbmcd at 12:15 PM on June 17, 2010


I'm a librarian at Tutt Library, and I'm so glad to see MetaFilter enjoying these.

My colleague, Jessy, is curator of special collections, and she wrote a short overview of the collection, highlighting the research potential of the menus and some of the ways the library cares for the collection.

BONUS: Photo of Jessamyn in the Tutt Library sub-basement.
posted by bevedog at 1:09 PM on June 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


Great find!
posted by donovan at 1:59 PM on June 17, 2010


mmmm Mutton Chops!
posted by lester's sock puppet at 8:52 AM on June 17 [+] [!]


Dude! Mutton Chops still live in NYC at Keen's. Me wants one soo badly. Preciousssssssssssss.
posted by helmutdog at 2:12 PM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love old menus. The sight of period clothing or architecture gives you very little sense impression of what life was like back in the day (whichever day it was), compared to period recipes. As someone who loves to eat -- and particularly as a vegetarian -- I am not one bit jealous of the past in this respect, at least the American past in the East Coast and Midwest. Everything was heavier, fattier, blander, more sweetened; there was less of it to eat, but how much more of it could you take? What we love today, if it existed at all, was considered embarrassingly ethnic and/or low-class -- ham,* sausage, garlic, chili pepper, crusty bread, cornbread (serious unsweet iron-skillet cornbread), deep-fried most anything . . . Technology and culture has expanded to permit us all to enjoy spicy and fresh foods if we wish to.

Naturally, we will not soon see a "Scottish food night" again, as per the first menu. It has been a long time since I heard Scottish food discussed as more than the subject of drunken carbohydrate-loading (deep-fried Mars bars) or hazing (haggis). Except for shortbread. Can't beat Scottish shortbread.

---
* Ham was low-class. Ham! Even in the South! High-class folks ate mutton and beef.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:14 PM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you liked the (wonderful!) scans of the menus and goggled at the exotic foods and prices Denver once had on offer, you might like Food of a Younger Land: A Portrait of American Food--Before the National Highway System, Before Chain Restaurants, and Before Frozen Food, When the Nation's Food Was Seasonal. It's a collection of WPA narratives and recipes for a never-completed project on the local foods of each state. It's muy cool, and there's an entire chapter on the menu at Delmonico's (apparently, that WPA writer liked the high life), plus a chapter on cowboy foods, and one on the New England variations on clam chowder.

Wow. Thousand Island dressing is older than I thought.

If you ever get the chance (that is, don't go out of your way for it), visit the 1000 Islands. They're part of the St Lawrence Seaway (the water border between Canada and New York) and there's quite a few old mansions out there. Though the origins of the salad dressing are murky, it wouldn't surprise me that (as a few theories argue) some rich family summering out there brought back the recipe to New York et voila.
posted by librarylis at 1:19 AM on June 18, 2010


Unfortunately most of such menu collections feature the exotic or gastronome menus that somebody thought worth saving, which are important because these were the leading edge of restaurant fare that influenced tastes but hardly represent the normal.

Up until recently most American families had women or servants to cook for them and eating in a restaurant was considered a form of vanity or depravity.

In the 1980s when in Heber Springs Arkansas I asked a local 70ish woman about which of the local diner type restaurants I should try. She responded that the food in all such places was awful and they only existed to feed men who were truckers or didn't have women to cook for them.

A few days later I was about 20 miles out and around lunch time I found a somewhat decrepit and isolated restaurant. I ordered a "pork sandwich" expecting it to be pulled pork but was served a delicious breaded fried flattened tenderloin that was not as ridiculously large as those in Indiana. (the only minus of this restaurant was that they used an awful tasting local water supply to reconstitute their Coke)
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 3:58 AM on June 18, 2010


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