Menu Collection, Part One: Las Vegas

by Derrick Bostrom

Back when I was very small, my parents would sometimes put me down in my grandparents' den while they continued to socialize late into the night. As I lay there, chairs propped up against the couch to keep me from dropping to the floor, I would gaze with fascination at all the menus that covered the walls of the room. From these wall, I gained my first inkling of the exciting world awaiting me in adulthood.

My grandparents were fairly typical middle-class lifestylers of the period. They had all the standard bourgeois trappings of "the good life" -- the tacky faux-opulent drapes, carpeting, furniture, table settings, etc. that bespoke of "quality" and gracious leisure. They had "Jokes For The John" in the guest bathroom. They even had a "Guest Register For The John," where their friends would scrawl such hilarious commentary as "nice place you have here" and "hated to leave."

It's a shame that so much of that stuff was lost over the years. But who knew from kitsch back then? As my grandparents proceeded from retirement to convalescence and finally to the grave, most of their possessions were dispersed along the way. But their large collection of menus from the sixties was something I ways kept track of. When they died, I claimed the collection, wrapped it up, and put it away.

Over a decade and a half has passed, and I recently pulled the collection out of storage to have a look at it again. While they still hold strong personal significance to me, what also strikes me about many of these menus is their striking beauty and elegant simplicity. They are marvelous souvenirs of an exciting, multi-faceted world of entertainment opportunity that was already extinct by the time I reached adulthood.

In short, they are the kinds of cultural artifacts that blogs were made for. To start our exhibit in Las Vegas is merely a no-brainer, since Vegas is the original Disneyland of dining for grownups. Since so many of that city's classic casinos are gone now, it's almost a miracle that both the Sahara and the Tropicana still stand (though for how much longer is a matter of speculation). But while the Sahara embraces its history, the Tropicana seems to be moving in the opposite direction.