There aren't many meals you can trace through the LAPL's menu collection that have remained basically the same throughout the last 80 years or so. Styles change, tastes change, ingredients change. So it was interesting, when looking though the archives for examples of afternoon tea, to see that the ritual has remained fairly similar, at least since the 1940s and probably before that as well.
Of course, America is all about progress and England is all about tradition, at least if you buy the stereotypes. And afternoon tea is not our tradition, it belongs to Britain, so it makes sense that, as a borrowed ritual, we stick to the elegant pageantry of tea sandwiches and little pastries. In looking over the menus there are a few hints of the times in each one -- most notably prices, of course.
Tiki is about to blow up.
We already have a number of great tiki bars in L.A., as well as all the history to back it up (the tiki craze started here, back in the '30s). But I sense a resurgence, a murmuring among the bar folks I know that suggests a growing fascination with tiki culture. A tiki renaissance is coming.
To help aid and abet this phenomenon, I thought I'd take a peek into the LAPL collection and see if there was much in the way of inspiration for folks who might want to see the great tiki menus of the past. As usual, the collection didn't disappoint. Here are 5 great historical tiki menus to get your tropical creative juices flowing.
As we enter the gateway to summer, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the Los Angeles Public Library menu collection for a historical perspective on the foods of summer: barbecue, hot dogs and ice cream.
First we turn to barbecue, where we have a 1965 menu from Stern's Famous Barbecue in Culver City. The restaurant, which opened in 1922, was located at 12658 West Washington and had quite a following. There are internet forum threads dedicated to the deliciousness of the sauce. I was able to find out that the restaurant was started by Isadore Stern, who originally ran a butcher shop in Texas but on slow days would barbecue meats out back. The barbecue became more popular than the butcher, and when he moved to L.A. Sterns Famous Barbecue was born. It was attached to a motel.
Less clear is when or why the restaurant closed. Also, check out the "Counting Calories?" section of the menu -- proving that even in 1965, and even at a barbecue joint, there was the drudgery of calorie counting.
A couple of weeks ago, we received this reader inquiry from Bob:
"In the 1950's there used to be a restaurant on La Cienega Blvd. around Jefferson known as King's Tropical Chicken Restaurant. In the front of restaurant was a courtyard with a koi fish pond. What ever happened to it? And what is the correct name? I used to go there as a kid with my parents."
After a little futile Googling, I decided to put our old friend the Los Angeles Public Library Menu Collection to the test, and wouldn't you know it, they have quite a few menus from King's Tropical Inn, beginning in the 1930s and on up through the 1960s. The last menu they have is dated 1963.
If you've ever had the feeling that the awful quality of airline food has very little to do with the problems of technology inherent in storing and getting food hot on an airplane and more to do with us being suckered by the airlines, you need look no farther than the Air France menus in the LAPL menu collection.
Apart from anything else, these menus are gorgeous. Many of them, like the one pictured to the right, aren't dated, and some are from the 60's. This first one is from an L.A.-Paris flight, and if you were lucky enough to be on this flight, you would have been in for quite a feast.
You would begin with cocktails, then move on to caviar. It's not clear whether you got salmon, Chateaubriand and duck l'orange or whether you had to choose between them, but those dishes were accompanied by haricots verts and artichoke hearts, and followed salad, a cheese course, ice cream, petits fours and desserts. There was, of course, Champagne to go with the meal.
In the 1920s, the Santa Monica beachfront looked very different than it does today. For one, there were multiple piers in the early 1900s (one of which we wrote about in another LAPL menu exploration). Between 1915 and 1930, a number of beach clubs were also established, most of which have since been demolished (although The Beach Club, established in 1923, still exists, and others, such as the Casa del Mar, became hotels or apartment buildings).
One of these beach clubs was the Deauville Club, which was established in 1927 and demolished in the mid-'60s after a fire. The club sat right next to the still-standing Santa Monica Pier -- in some 1950s films of Muscle Beach you can see the club in the background.
The menu we're looking at today is exciting because of the history of the Deauville Club and the Santa Monica beachfront, but also because of the person this menu celebrates: Irvin S. Cobb.
The tradition of New Year's Eve Champagne dining extends back at least as far as the menu archives at the Los Angeles Public Library -- that is to say, over 100 years. This week we take a look at that tradition through the last century in Los Angeles. Read about those menus below, and scroll down to see images of them.
In 1911, one of our favorites, the Nat Goodwin Cafe in Santa Monica, served a 12-course meal that included filet of sole and sweetbreads en cases. You could purchase champagne by the quart or pint, for around $5 and $2.50 respectively.
On New Year's Day in 1927, the Cafe Montmartre in Hollywood served a $3 menu with lobster Louis and "consomme grand mere."
When researching the restaurants responsible for the menus found in the LAPL menu collection, many times the trail leads to the uncovering of a whole world of Los Angeles history, a look into the past that reveals the dramatic life of owners and customers, and the city changing around the restaurant in question. And sometimes, it only leads to more questions.
Such is the case with Barclay Kitchen, a restaurant with a menu so fun and uncommon I was immediately drawn to it. Presented as a rolled up scroll, the menu unfurls to a few feet in length.
The library dates the menu sometime in the 1970's, although I can find no other indication that the restaurant was indeed open so recently. What information could I find about this restaurant? Not much. It was located at 8438 W. 3rd Street, near where the Beverly Center now looms. The address no longer exists, eaten up by an office building. And there are only a few clues on this menu to give us much more insight.
Looking through the Thanksgiving menus in the LAPL menu collection was oddly comforting. There are more than 60 Thanksgiving menus, dating from the very early 1900's on up through today, and while there are variations here and there that point to the trends of the times, the basic fact is that on Thanksgiving, we eat very similarly to the way our ancestors did 50 and 100 years ago.
The menu to the right is from 1924, and is an advertisement taken from the Glendale Evening News for a restaurant called the Chateau de Qualitie in Glendale. For $1.50, you could have roast young Antelope Valley turkey with cranberry sauce and chestnut dressing, steamed brussel sprouts, and apple and pumpkin pie. Sound familiar?