As classes gear up for the Fall quarter I scramble around to dig up and compile all the cool images, flyers, posters, and other paper ephemera I gathered in far-flung places over the summer. For the last year, I have been teaching about Japanese food, both in Japan, and in LA. Two of my classes even grew a community garden brimming with Asian vegetables. In classes both with and without fieldwork, I try to link what’s happening in Japan to LA local contexts. The Los Angeles Public Library is a stealth archive of sorts that does just that. Many intriguing things at the LAPL are hidden in plain sight; one of the stealth collections is their digitized trove of menus from all over LA, from the late 1800s to the present.
One cool thing is that the first menus are not menus, actually–they are ads. (Earliest examples date from the 1860s, and are from a San Francisco restaurant, Lick House, and a cruise ship called “New York.”) Here’s one of the earliest, from 1886. It’s the Christmas menu from the Stevenson House, located at First and Los Angeles Streets, as published in the LA Tribune.
Close on its heels, we have Al Levy’s Oyster House, in an ad dating from 1897,
which quickly morphed into Levy’s full-fledged restaurant,
and stretched into relishes, strawberry au rhum omelettes, and theatre parties–but, cryptically, no lobsters.
…and in whose inside lurks fusion-y ephemera, a photo of a frosted glass of Suntory draft being tacked into place by a Midori magnet:
and the whole spread from kushiyaki to salmon misoyaki to fresh fruits with ice carving (minimum 2 people).
Other images go for an artisinal folkness, like the Kawafuku Cafe,
or the festive woohoo-ness of the cruise ship, the SS Oriana,
somewhat cut by the sober epigraph from…Heart of Darkness…? well, Conrad, never the sunniest of dinner companions, in any case~
And finally, a novelty from back in the day, when Yamashiro needed an adjective to convey its majesty–and that adjective was SKYROOM. This 1960 menu features a map,
and features your old friend “saki,” for a dollar.