In a brightly lit room just off the rare books room on one of the upper floors of downtown's Los Angeles Central Library lives the library's menu collection, housed in a series of brown filing cabinets. The menus number in the thousands, and date from the late 1800's to the present.
For lovers of ephemera, food obsessives or social anthropologists, the collection is like a rabbit hole you could fall into and fail to resurface from for days. The menus offer a glimpse into the ways we've eaten and socialized over the past 120 years, our changing tastes in food and graphics, and give us a window into the changing face of Los Angeles. (The library also has a fantastic collection of cookery ephemera, although it is considered a separate collection than the menu collection.)
The best thing about the collection? Most of it is available online. But there's more to this collection than just looking at the menus themselves. What were these restaurants? What are these menu items? What history can be revealed by looking a little deeper?
We here at LA Weekly want to delve deeper into this collection. And so, in partnership with the library, each week we'll feature a menu, find out as much as we can about the restaurant or hotel or club it came from, and look at the distinctive dishes the menu features.
The collection includes menus from all over the U.S. and the world, but we'll be focusing on the menus of Southern California. The idea is to try to look back at the history of our city through the lens of what we eat. Up first: a look at an early menu from an iconic L.A. eatery that reopens this week. Look for it later today.
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