The Western History and Genealogy Department’s Menu Collection (WH1509) has gotten some love and attention during the past year. A popular collection for a wide range of library customers, the Menu Collection boxes were showing signs of heavy use. We invested in sturdy boxes this year, shifting the entire collection to allow for easier access and room for growth. Thanks to longtime volunteer Ingrid Boyd and DPL staff member Nicole Sickinger for organizing the file folders, re-boxing the menus, and seeing this project through! The updated, descriptive finding aid for the collection is now searchable online.
The menus in the collection span 1849-2013, with a concentration in the mid to late 20th century when restaurants became more ubiquitous. Menus range from affordable diners to lavishly planned meals for specific occasions. Some menus are for dining services aboard airplanes, cruise ships or railroads. Menus can provide evidence of the breadth of cultural and regional culinary influences in a region, as well as the availability of various types of food in a particular place and time. The research requests we get for this collection are fascinating. Some customers want to “revisit” a favorite childhood restaurant by looking at its menu while others are writing a work of historical fiction and need to know where their characters might have actually gone for dinner!
Where do they come from?
DPL’s Menu Collection is comprised of original menus from restaurants and cafes across the globe, with an emphasis on locations in the Rocky Mountain Region and in Colorado and Denver. Some menus are set for a specific, named occasion. Menus in the collection were assembled from various donors and places of origin. Some menus were transferred from other archival collections, and many were donated to the library as single items.
Menus in the News
In recent years, The New York Public Library’s menu project has received lots of attention for successfully enlisting the public to transcribe its menu collection. It has become a digital trove of historical data about restaurants and food. Now that our collection is arranged and described, maybe we will be able to do a project like this at DPL in the future!
Appreciate this post. Interesting historical information!
Thanks for reading, Nancy!
That is great to hear! I knew DPL had some fascinating menus and it's so great to see even these preview ones. The Casa Bonita one is especially nostalgic.
Thanks Rachel! Yes, the Casa Bonita menu seems especially timely since it has been back in the news again lately.
Little Pepina's was my favorite Italian restaurant in Denver, a step up from a typical red sauce place. I guess I'll need to set aside some time to come down and root through some of this collection. I'm guessing the volume of material is a bit too much to expect it ever to be digitized?
I'm glad the Little Pepina's menu brought back memories! Never say never when it comes to digitization, but we do not have immediate plans to digitize this collection. We'd love to see you in our reading room when you come for a visit!
Little Pepina's menu caught my attention, as well. I bussed tables there as a youth.
What a wonderful way to remember and memorialize our restaurants (and cuisines) of yore. Even though these places come and go, I am glad this collection exists to keep the memories and stories alive!