The Art of Eating.


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.














Comments on “The Art of Eating.

    greg chapman on March 3, 2015 8:20 PM:

    Love this post, I found a few of these whilst on the road picking, got some old british and french ones too.

    Jeff on March 3, 2015 11:37 PM:

    Using one of the inflation calculators on google shows that 3 bucks in 1941 is equal to 49.95 today.

    Robert on March 4, 2015 8:01 AM:

    When the USA was on the gold standard of $35 an ounce of gold versus $1400 today would make that $3 meal at least $140 in todays money.

    Great art work. Great blog.

    Jim on March 4, 2015 10:17 AM:

    In 1941 a meal for $3.00 would be relatively expensive, given the above information and results of on-line inflation calculators that, when I just looked, indicated an equivalent of $47.70 in 2015.

    Ted on March 4, 2015 8:05 PM:

    So good. Love the Devil.

    Mugsy Jeans on March 5, 2015 3:43 PM:

    You find the coolest historical artifacts, makes us seriously consider getting a library card. But it’s kind of sad more work isn’t put into menus like it used to be. Not ragging on restaurants…their industry is hard enough to operate in, we’re just saying it must’ve been a much cooler experience to eat out back then. Great find!

    pat hobby on March 7, 2015 7:15 PM:

    The Los Angeles Public Library has a collection online as well:

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