Filet Mignon for a buck eighty five, a salad for sixty cents, a baked potato for a quarter, a glass of beer for a dime.
In 1941 you could get a solid meal at the famous Keen’s Steakhouse here in New York for less than three dollars. That in of itself is extraordinary, but what’s even more extraordinary is how the menu looked. Back in the forties, Keen’s menu was a real work of art. The cover of the medieval inspired menu proudly displayed the Keen’s story, each page was bordered by smiling vegetables, and “To-Day’s Selections” were announced by a lute playing minstrel musician. And this was just one menu from one restaurant.
Back in the day, all menus were an art form in their own right. They would often feature hand-drawn figures, ornate scripts, bracketed sections, and frame-worthy covers. These boastful bills of fares were a canvas for creativity, regardless of the quality of the dishes which were listed on their pages. This is somewhat of a flip on today’s culinary trends, as most restaurants today hand out plainspoken menus, yet peddle some truly beautiful dishes. While the menu has become mundane now, we can fortunately still revisit the artistic menus of the past through the New York Public Library’s extensive online archive of menu’s from New York City restaurants. With over seven thousand menus, the archive is a real feast, our only recommendation is that you don’t visit on an empty stomach. Some of our favorites after the jump.