Dining out poster

Photo Source: Grolier Club

Restaurant Menu Exhibition Reveals 100 Years of American Dining

In the United States, restaurant menus only came into general use around the 1840s when hotels began to replace the old inns and taverns in which daily meals were determined by whatever the proprietors had on hand. While most hotel menus were meant for short-term use and not meant to be saved, others were carefully crafted by high-society stationers such as Tiffany’s and Dempsey & Carroll. Even when briefly kept as personal mementos, many menus were tossed out by later generations. To help preserve this bit of American cultural history, Henry Voigt curated 100 years of such menus from the 1840s to the 1940s. He had planned to open the exhibition to the public this September at New York’s Grolier Club, a 135-year-old society for bibliophiles and graphic arts enthusiasts. Due to the pandemic, the menu exhibition is now online. Some of the exhibition highlights include rare menu examples from Edgar Allan Poe, from Mark Twain’s seventieth birthday party at Delmonico’s, and from a reception for French zoologist Paul B. Du Chaillu in the New Mexico Territory. Like other cultural ephemera and artifacts, part of a historical restaurant menu’s appeal stems from the belief that its survival is improbable. Read more here and view the menu exhibition at the Grolier Club.

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