Today, menus tend to fall into two extreme camps—either they are pared down to a bare list of ingredients (usually extremely obscure ones likes sunchoke foam and salsify), or they look like this. But back in the day, many restaurant menus were objets d’art, or at least visually stimulating pieces of ephemera that captured a particular time, place, or event.
The vault-diggers over at the Smithsonian have unearthed 10 vintage menus from around the country, with the help of the historically minded food blog Cool Culinaria.
Cool Culinaria co-founder Eugen Beer explains that the golden age of the American bill of fare was between the 1930s and 1960s:
“You had this incredible explosion of restaurants in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s when the American economy, partly driven by the Second World War, was doing incredibly well. And you had the great highways… [B]uccaneering restauranteurs who, in order to give their establishments a sense of identity, invested money in the design of their menus and actually employed well-known artists or interesting designers to produce them.”
Check out more throwback menus over on the Smithsonian blog.