Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Old NYC Menus

My venture into the history of Oscar's Salt of the Sea got me looking at old New York City menus on Ebay. There are many. Here are a few.

It's somehow fascinating to see what people used to eat--and what they used to pay for it. Like sugar cured ham steak followed by preserved figs in cream at Dempsey's. Or Creamed Chicken a la King on toast at the Nut Club in Greenwich Village.



Luchow's Black Forest Festival of 1958 featured Eisbein in Gelee (pig's knuckles in jelly) with home-fried potatoes for $2.25. You could also get Saure Leber (sliced calf's liver in chablis) with home-fried potatoes for $2.65.



How about an Eggburger Plate with Curleycue Fries at The Californian, 1950s "Times Square's most unusual restaurant"?



A Waldorf salad and Lobster Thermidor at Toots Shor's, in 1951, would only cost you a few bucks. At Hamburg Heaven in 1954, a "heavenly hamburg" was 55 cents and you could wash it down with a 15-cent glass of buttermilk.



By the early 1980s, a burger at Soup Burg cost you $1.30.



A Sirloin Steak for 2 at Gage & Tollner cost $10 in 1962 and a Filet Mignon went for $5.25.



You could get Scampi Puccini at Asti on 12th Street for $7.25 in 1968--plus lots of pictures of opera singers.



A hot pastrami sandwich at The Stage Deli ran you $2.45 in 1973. Today it's a bit more expensive.



At the Russian Bear you could get something called the Moscow Mule for $1.50. I bet it came with quite a kick.



And wouldn't a 55-cent King of the Sea Cooler, made with Valliant California burgundy, be refreshing on a hot day in the 1940s? They thought so with this colorful menu.



But for pure visual pleasure, the best menu in the bunch is from the fabulous Leon & Eddie's who greeted their patrons with a topless burlesque girl and the charge to "Push the first valve down." (That's a line from an old Tommy Dorsey tune, which may or may not have become a double entendre.) Inside the menu, they insist, "This is no time to be thinking of diets--sail right in and have some fun!"



This last image is not a menu, but a cocktail napkin from the Astor Roof Bar. I just like it. It's autographed by Marsha Hunt and Olga San Juan, actresses of the 1940s that someone was excited enough about, on the roof of the Astor Hotel, to ask for their autographs.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Also, http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/explore/dgexplore.cfm?col_id=159.

Sha said...

Beautiful and fascinating. A Moscow Mule today (curated) will run you about 10 times that.

Melanie said...

Pan roast and a side of creamed spinach at Gage & Tollners and goose and chestnut puree at Luchows. Dined at these fine establishments with my parents way back in the day. Gage & Tollner was the best. Some of the waiters at Gage & Tollner had been employed there for over 30 years. My graduation from Lower School (6th Grade) in Prep School talk was celebrated there and my Mom told me she ate dinner there with her Father in the 1920's. Fond memories.

BrooksNYC said...

Am transported by these. Thank you.

"Sail Right In and Have Some Fun!"

This line. Something about it breaks my heart.

Ken Mac said...

Cream chicken on toast sounds damn fine to me. Watching an old D Hoffman movie last night, Straight Time. In one scene he drinks coffee outside a converted McDonalds that sells "fried livers and gizzards." I dare you to find that in LA today.

ShatteredMonocle said...

amazing:
http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/dgkeysearchdetail.cfm?trg=1&strucID=1835886&imageID=1687385&parent_id=1835753&word=&snum=&s=&notword=&d=&c=&f=&k=0&sScope=&sLevel=&sLabel=&total=1&num=0&imgs=20&pNum=&pos=1

esquared said...

new york magazine also dug manhattan menus of 30 years ago...

http://newyork.grubstreet.com/2009/07/how_different_did_manhattans_m.html

Emily Hannah! said...

You can visit the menu collection at NYPL, too. There's something like 100,000 of them there!

Marty Wombacher said...

I love the imagery on these menus! Great post and now I'm hungry for sugar-cured ham steak.

Kurt said...

Great menus. I like how Dempsey's turns Manhattan into a red paramecium; the "can do" lumberjack ready to clear-cut California; and Neptune at the King of the Sea, whose guts seem to be exploding, startling the fish!

Diana @ Appetite for China said...

The LA Public Library also has a great menu collection online, and it's even searchable by cuisine.

http://www.lapl.org/resources/en/menu_collection.html

Lrs said...

these are the posts i love. why dont you do some current menus? the ones you like, & the ones you dont! it would be nice to compare. douteful that they are as graphic & beautiful as the ones i see here. thankyou "J"

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks for all the great menu links. you can really get lost just surfing through this stuff.

Tricia said...

The Nut club menu is a find! It says "the Night club that Made Greenwich Village Famous." One section even has testimonials from celebs of the day from Mae West to the Do Re Mi Trio(?). It was at 99 7th Ave So where the Garage is now. Makes me wonder how many clubs have been there in the intervening years?

Yojimbot said...

when are we going to Leon & Eddie's?!<!<

Jeremiah Moss said...

we're going to Leon and Eddie's very soon. probably next week.

mingusal said...

A Moscow Mule is vodka, ginger beer, and lime served in a copper mug. A very popular drink of the WWII and 1950s eras, it's still quite popular in some quarters. My father has one (or so) pretty much every evening during the summer.

From Life Magazine, 1950:
http://books.google.com/books?id=50oEAAAAMBAJ&lpg=PA53&dq=moscow%20mule&pg=PA54#v=onepage&q=moscow%20mule&f=false

Jeremiah Moss said...

Mingusal, thanks for the research. i am definitely going to try one.

joel said...

I love looking at the old menus. Luchows was one of my favorites back in the early 1960s.

Readers should be aware that the prices in 1951 need to be multiplied by $8.51 for every $ to see what the cost was to diners in 1951. For example, if an entree is listed on a menu of Luchows at $3.50, for, say, roast goose, in 2009 dollars, that is $29.75.

In other words, don't read those prices without adjusting them for inflation. Someone making $10,000 a year in 1951 had the spending power of a person making $85,000 a year in 2009.

Joel Baumwoll/NYC

Jeremiah Moss said...

i am also fascinated by the Nut Club.

Jill said...

I was given a copy of the new NY Times Cookbook, and the recipes are ordered by date they appeared in the newspaper rather than grouped by ingredient or type (though there are the larger typical sections--appetizers, meats, fish etc). In some cases she transcribes the original recipe from the 19th century, which was often one long sentence without measures or specifics. It is a great read and I am working on cooking the older recipes that fascinate me.

redgirl said...

These are just fantastic - do you have any more you can post? Or maybe two of the same, then and now?

Matt said...

This post is terrific -- I know it's an old one, but I came across it searching for "old new york menus". The city needs to feature more amazing dishes from the past -- I think we're doing better of late featuring cocktails from earlier eras.

Have you done another other posts of old NY menus or have plans to do so?

I'll be adding you to my blogroll!

Best,
Matt