Taste of a decade: 1960s restaurants

Americans grew wealthier, traveled more, and demanded more exotic cuisine. Yet there were few trained restaurant cooks. Convenience food – in the guise of continental dishes (as in pineapple = Hawaiian) – offered the solution for many restaurants as the decade wore on. In other developments, old restaurant formats such as automats, diners, cafeterias, and drive-ins disappeared or shrank drastically in numbers. Fast food and dinner house chains, relatively scarce at the beginning of the decade, flourished by its end. Black Americans began to make headway in gaining civil rights in restaurants. By the middle of the decade signs of the counterculture could be seen here and there.

Highlights

1960 New Armour & Co. boiling bags filled with beef burgundy, lobster Newburg, and coq au vin mean that “Every drive-in can now be a Twenty-One Club, every restaurant a Maxim’s de Paris,” according to a trade mag. – In Columbus Ohio the opening of the Kahiki adds to the Polynesian restaurant boom, while in NYC La Fonda del Sol opens, offering exotica such as Empanadas, Grilled Peruvian Tidbits on Skewers, and Papaya Filled with Fresh Fruits.

1961 In Sherman Oaks the Wild Goose adds four dishes to its menu: Boned Pheasant Chicken Kahlua, Veal Cutlet Oskar, Fresh Gulf Shrimp Stroganoff, and Breast of Chicken Kiev. – Four-star Lutèce opens in New York, one year after La Caravelle.

1962 A café in Sioux Falls announces “microwave cooking,” while in New York’s Time Square a restaurant opens featuring frozen entrees which the customer is to pop into a tabletop microwave. – A new product for restaurants comes on the market: instant mouthwash in a sealed paper cup to be presented to customers after they eat heavily spiced dishes.

1964 Continental and Polynesian restaurants find they must add steak to their offerings. – Kelly’s steak house in Sherman Oaks announces it sold approximately 400,000 pounds of steak in the past year.

1965 Maxwell’s Plum opens in NYC with an eclectic menu that ranges from Pâté and Escargots Bourguignonne to a Foot-long Hot Dog with Chili. Rumors spread of a naked woman seen walking casually through the dining room. — Extra-thick Frymaster Jet Griddles are marketed to keep cooking temperatures stable even when “completely loaded with frozen food.” – Aggressively cheerful California-style coffee shops, which combine the features of drive-ins, coffee shops, dinner houses, and cocktail bars, spread across the country.

1966 After touring the US, a wine expert says that he believes 99% of licensed restaurants have no interest in promoting wine. He reports that not once did a server ask if he’d like wine with his dinner. Instead they asked if he wanted a cocktail, followed by “Coffee now or later?” – Alice Brock opens The Back Room in Stockbridge MA which will be made famous by Arlo Guthrie as “Alice’s Restaurant.”

1967 Students at the University of Washington, Seattle, boycott Aggie’s Restaurant because they believe it discriminates against students, especially if they are dressed in “funny clothes,” following an incident involving a long-haired “fringie.” – The adoption of frozen convenience foods increases in restaurants after passage of the Minimum Wage Act which raises kitchen workers’ pay.

1968 Countering the fast food trend, the menu at the Trident in Sausalito advises its patrons to be patient: “Welcome to Our Space. Positive energy projection is the trip. … Care in the preparation of food requires time especially if we’re busy! So please take a deep breath, relax and dig on the love & artistry about you. May all our offerings please you. Peace within you.” – In Fayetteville, Arkansas, a diner declares he is tired of an “unrelieved diet of chili dogs and waffle fries” and bemoans the lack of any “quality dining establishments.”

1969 The Scarlet Monk in Oakland advertises a “Topless Luncheon” Monday through Friday. – In Chicago, menu language has become more sophisticated, according to linguistic researchers. They report: “Du jour is an accepted form on menus and appears more often than of the day. Anything – pie, potatoes, sherbet, cake, pudding – can be du jour (or de jour, du jor, dujour, and du-jour), and the Florentine Room even has … potato del giorno.”

Read about other decades: 1800 to 1810; 1810 to 1820; 1820 to 1830; 1860 to 1870; 1890 to 1900; 1900 to 1910; 1920 to 1930; 1930 to 1940; 1940 to 1950; 1950 to 1960; 1970 to 1980

© Jan Whitaker, 2008

17 Comments

Filed under food, history, restaurants

17 responses to “Taste of a decade: 1960s restaurants

  1. Can anyone remember Frisky’s in Des Moines in the late 60’S early 70’s? The owner was an art teacher, I think at East. Had the best gunie grinder, pizzas and onion rings.

  2. Anonymous

    Does anyone remember an oyster bar inside the Port Authority, NY, I believe on the 42nd st side?

    • Port Authority BUS terminal @ 42nd St did not have an oyster bar as I recall, but Port Authority @ Cortland and Church Sts had a clam/oyster bar that was open 24hrs….this was in the mid 1960’s.

  3. jules eggleston

    Does anyone remember Tabletalk restaurant in NYC in the late 60’s?

  4. Ed

    Does anyone remember the Tower Suite Restaurant on 6th Avenue in the 50’s in New York City?

  5. JOE VITALE

    I’M TRYING TO RECALL WHAT I THINK WAS A FRENCH RESTAURANT IN DOWNTOWN D.C. DURING THE 1970S. ALL OF THE POWER BROKERS FREQUENTED IT. I RECALL THERE WAS ONE LEVEL AS YOU ENTERED AND THEN ANOTHER LOWER LEVEL. ANYONE HAVE ANY THOUGHTS?

  6. libby

    Does anyone remember “The Huddle” a restaurant in Reno Nevada in the 1960’s? Any info would be great. Thanks!

  7. Shelby Sweet

    Does anyone remember a luncheon place at the State Street Marshall Field’s where the waitresses brought your order on a tray. You filled out your order by checking off what you wanted on a little order form with a little pencil? I remember the restaurant as having a garden patio look. I think that was the name too. This would have been in the late ’50’s or possibly the early ’60’s. I’d really like to hear from you if you remember it because my best childhood friend has no recollection of it. I swear I remember having lunch there with my mother when I was a little girl. Shelby

  8. Elaine Johnston

    Does anyone remember a restaurant in the 60’s around Canal Street/Spring Street located in a Brownstone with dining in the backyard? Possibly starts with an “R”?

  9. J.Lay

    Does anyone remember Lay’s Restaurant in Omaha Ne. in the 1960’s?

    • Yes, it was down the street from where I lived and several of us went there before a sweetheart dance at Westside in the early 70’s. Very fancy and good. The daughter of the owner ended up being my Freshman college room mate. Wondering where she is now…

  10. cc

    Speaking of ’60’s cuisine…
    I need a restaurant that makes a ‘reheated’ version of Coq au Vin. It tastes soooo much better when dish is allowed to rest overnight and the sauce has a chance to re-moisten the chicken.

    Pan American Airways had this entree from Maxim’s of Paris ….fabulous. Who knew anyone could be nostalic for airline food!

  11. Eva

    Can anyone tell me the name of the French restaurant which was at 1540 Second Ave NY before it became “Pig Heaven”?

    • You may be thinking of Ida de France, run by the Swiss-born Chiesi brothers, Alexander and Peter. Peter Chiesi, who founded the Hapsburg House at 313 East 55th Street, joined Alexander as chef at Ida de France in 1968. In 1970 Craig Claiborne reviewed the restaurant, praising its seafood crepes with Mornay sauce and watercress soup. He said it had a bistro atmosphere, with raspberry walls, posters, paintings, and plaster busts. It may have closed that year, when Peter died. In 1974 Szechuan East is listed at that address. Pig Heaven opened in 1984.

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