VINTAGE MENUS ARE WORKS OF ART
The amazing images that you see on our website come from vintage menus and classic restaurant signage that Cool Culinaria has rescued from the fate of languishing in storage or being held unseen in vast institutional and private collections. Cool Culinaria’s mission is to bring the vintage art of dining out back to life.
Our collection of menus from all over the world date from the late 19th century through the 1970s. Our favorite period is from the years 1930–1960 and the venues are mostly located in the Americas. This was a boom time when independent restaurateurs were positively buccaneering in the way they marketed their restaurants and themselves. It was a time when fish smoked pipes and cigars. Prawns and cockroaches wore top hats and spats. Voluptuous brunettes sat astride lobsters and devil like women drained their cocktail glasses in New York bars. Proprietors hired celebrated artists and highly talented illustrators to create stunning imagery that expressed both the personality of the owner as well as the character of the establishment.
It is a testament to the diligent hobbyists and collectors of America that so many of these menus have survived despite limited print runs and the closing of so many of the restaurants they came from.
Cool Culinaria was established in the summer of 2012 by Charles Baum, Barbara McMahon and Eugen Beer when we realized many of these vintage menus are works of art in their own right and were ripe for reinvention. We seek out menus from restaurants, bars and saloons, cafes, diners, drive-ins, nightclubs and hotels. After years of handling, some are damaged, so we both physically and digitally repair the wear and tear of time. We get rid of coffee and gravy stains, erase creases and repair paper tears. Some menus are repaired by professional art restorers and others are cleaned up by talented digital artists. Not too much. We want them to show their age – it’s part of their charm.
After weeks of trial and error, we finally found beautifully textured art paper for our menus and diner signs. We use only archival inks and are lucky to have the expertise of the most experienced and talented printers in New York to ensure the highest quality of our finished prints.
We happily continue to build the Cool Culinaria menu collection. Some of the menus you see on the site are ours; others come from private and institutional collections.
That’s the story so far. We believe we are the first to recognize and reinvent the menu as its own art genre and we are incredibly proud of what we have achieved so far. We’re just getting started. There is much more to come.
We think Cool Culinaria products will bring back memories for some and be conversation starters for others. However, for everyone, they are a reminder of the fabled history of dining out
Thank you for visiting Cool Culinaria. We’ll be bringing you newly rescued menus and other artifacts on a regular basis – please keep checking in.
Charles Baum is an ex-restaurateur, a photographer, and an inveterate collector of books and culinary ephemera.
Barbara McMahon is a Scottish-born journalist living in New York and a passionate collector and researcher of vintage menus.
Eugen Beer created the original concept behind Cool Culinaria and curates both the US and UK sites.
Images from The Oyster Loaf, San Francisco