What were they thinking?

I have often been struck by how many postcards fail to present restaurants at their best. Most of those I’ve chosen for this post are from popular restaurants, some of which stayed in business for a very long time and were well loved.

But the whole idea behind postcards was to extend the appeal of a restaurant beyond its regular patrons, to those who perhaps never even heard of it. What would strangers think about the places associated with these self-presentations?

Why show an exterior like this?

I don’t know what explains the sad appearance of the Olympia Oyster House. It was a popular spot that had been around for decades, but the front of the building in 1971, with its high-school-gym style and blanked out window, does not seem attractive even to the people in the photo. It seems they can’t quite bring themselves to enter.

Apparently the Hilltop Restaurant, shown here in 1960, was listed for sale for an extended period of time. Years and years — all the while doing business. Nothing like a patch of weeds to set off a place.

The names!

Please, no more Squat-N-Gobbles! Such a strange name for a white-tablecloth restaurant advertising “Dinner by Candlelight.”

And yet, having no name at all doesn’t work well either.

Identity crisis

As names go, Mammy’s Kitchen is offensive, and, in the case of this 1970s Myrtle Beach restaurant, does not seem to have anything to do with either the food or the strange atomic symbol hovering overhead. Its cuisine is likewise heterogeneous, covering the usual steaks and chicken, but also offering “Italian Kitchen and KOSHER SANDWICHES.” New management took over in the mid-1980s but the objectionable name from an earlier age was still in use as late as 2019.

The Wolf’s Den in Knox, Pennsylvania, opened in 1972 in a very old barn that had been decorated with plows, saddles, old rifles and such. The section called the Hay Mow is shown on this card. Something about the dusty appearance of dried out straw and the chains and hooks does not convey an enjoyable dining experience. According to a 1977 review, the restaurant was expensive and served “standard American fare” such as escargot and French onion soup. I’m confused.

Do these look delicious?

German pancakes have been a favorite at Pandl’s Inn in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, for decades. The trouble is they don’t photograph at all well. It is also a mystery to me why anyone would accompany a large pancake with a basket of bread and rolls.

A similar problem afflicts the specialty ice cream pie at Tripp’s Restaurant in Bar Harbor, Maine.

The postcard was almost certainly created to celebrate the opening of the Sirloin Room at Dallas’ Town and Country Restaurant in 1951. Of course steaks are brown, plus this one seems to be resting in a pool of its own juices. I can see that some touch of color was needed, but maybe this parsley is a bit much.

Threatening interiors

Probably when you’re actually in King Arthur’s Court, a room at the Tower Steak House in Mountainside, New Jersey, the deadly implements wielded by the suits of armor recede into the distance and the blood red carpeting is barely noticeable. But in this shot they loom disturbingly.

No, the lion is not actually holding a gun, but she is showing her teeth in a menacing way. Likewise those antelope horns look sharp at the Kenya Club in Palm Beach, Florida.

This light fixture? sculpture? installation? might just be the ugliest I’ve ever seen. Let’s hope that it was well connected to the ceiling of the William Tell Restaurant in Chicago. Then there are the inset wall displays, and . . .

© Jan Whitaker, 2022

13 Comments

Filed under decor, food, odd buildings

13 responses to “What were they thinking?

  1. Food for thought, like all your posts! For some reason I just remembered the toy box/treasure chest “for good little girls and boys” at Clark’s restaurant on Shaker Square, Cleveland, Ohio, stocked with cheap gew-gaws for kids who finished their dinners. I remember getting stuck in one of those straw Chinese finger puzzles and crying all the way home. Have you ever done a piece on how restaurants catered to kids before the Chucky Cheese era?

  2. Madam Mack

    I truly enjoy your posts just as much as I love food.

    This is a link to Aunt Fannys Cabin . . .hopefully AJC will let you read the article. The site has been kind of tricky lately.

    https://www.ajc.com/neighborhoods/north-fulton/aunt-fannys-cabin-demolished-taking-an-unwelcomed-part-of-smyrna-history/5JXXGEX5RRCWFOLIWYF2DFYWWM/

    All the best . . .

    Charlotte Mack

  3. Chris Egan

    The first postcard, “The Olympia Oyster House” is still in business at the same address https://www.olympiaoysterhouse.com/

  4. Tom

    Bravo Jan! Let’s hope the food was better than the decor?

  5. Anonymous

    I thoroughly enjoy and defend this sampling of kitschy eateries!

  6. Anonymous

    Road Food, Bad Shots.

  7. Hilarious commentary! Amazing indeed that those would bring anyone into their restaurant and in many cases stay if it did!!

  8. misenplacememoir

    Wow! Amazingly…nostalgic.

  9. The German pancake has with it included, a basket of bread. That is what a food photo stylist would believe to be a table focusing on the pancake and not the rest. But the table would not look good with lots of open real estate. That’s pretty obvious to me. Thanks Jan. This post has me LOL.

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