At The Hotel Commodore, New York City, NY on January 7, 1961. We know this because, James R. Hoffa was the keynote speaker for a Testimonial Dinner for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and our proof was his autograph on the event menu. Throughout the years menus have been used for notes during a business meeting, Autographs of celebrities or marking important events such as anniversaries and birthdays. In our vast collection, we have hundreds of menus with autographs of famous individuals, marriage proposals and marking important dates for individuals. In this issue of “Hot off the Grill” we are including a few of those menus for your enjoyment.
In early dining right up to today, menus were aligned with the culture of the time. For example, in today’s world you would not see nude women gracing the menu covers for a popular restaurant. In early Las Vegas, casinos and in large metropolitan supper clubs menus were noted for nude caricatures of women and nude photos of the “starlets” that were performing in the main show. The names of restaurants and supper clubs were equally edging for their time. I don’t think many of us would even think of bringing our spouse to a supper club called the 365 Bimbo Club. But, in fact we have the famous Lana Turner, Hollywood starlet, signed menu from that very club now on display at Hollywood Casino Grantville, PA.
Another unfortunate sign of early times were the years of narrow minded racism and segregation. These misguided views carried into food service. The way this was communicated was through signage and menus. We have several menus where race segregation was actually mentioned on the menu as to seating and restrooms. Even on early cruise ships segregating passengers by “class” was the accepted practice of identifying where, when and what you ate. In Indonesia, they actually segregate classes of patrons by restaurant and by posting the price of the full course meal. In Jakarta, popular types of eatery called Pon Duk 50 represent the cost of the meal (50 rupiah), which was targeted to the meager class. Although, at one Pon Duk 50, I had the best pan fried squid and whole fish, I have ever had. Only thing, you wouldn’t want to tour the kitchen and fresh fish file, which was a small 8′ round hand dug pond with no filter system.
The menus we have illustrated in this issue have some notoriety which I want to share with you.
The commemorative menu from October 1898 was a banquet honoring the officers and crew of the USS Maine and Merrimac, which were scuttled in Havana harbor to prevent the Spanish fleet from escaping. The menu has the signatures of some of the officers honored that day. Notice the “saddle of Mutton”… here is a brief description: Sheep in their first year are “lambs”, lambs older than one year but less than 2 are hogget’s and adult sheep over 2 years are mutton. Another way of discerning lambs from mutton is by their permanent incisor teeth.
The Chicken Shack menu was a restaurant owned by the famous boxer Joe Louis. He signed the menu to a friend. Jack Dempsey also owned a famous restaurant, which is still in business to this day. You can see his autograph and date he signed the menu.
Celebrities were gracious about signing autographs as by the examples
All the best!