We base many of our memories on food; not just what we ate (and how it tasted), but also where, and with whom. Restaurants are often an important part of our memory banks, and when an old favorite closes its doors, it can trigger reminscences both good and bad. We recently had a call from a woman who just could not remember the name of “the restaurant on Rockville Pike with the giant salad bar,” and it was driving her and her friends crazy. (Staff memories, rather than our collections, solved that one: it was Phineas.) Online, there are many forums and blogs dedicated to “do you remember” this restaurant, or that neighborhood cafe. Next time you need to start a conversation with a long-time county resident, ask if he or she remembers, say, Farrell’s, or Rickshaw, or the Anchor Inn.
How do museums reflect those memories? Thankfully, restaurants contain more than just food. (Although we do have a few once-edible items in our collections.) Here are some of the material remnants that we use to help preserve, and bring back, memories of restaurants past.
Photographs. Late 1960s interior and exterior views of Mr. T’s On the Pike, located on N. Washington Street in Rockville. George W. Johnson (seated) opened his general store in 1918; over the years it evolved into a well-known tavern and restaurant, which he operated until his death in 1971. The office building at right, in the street view, is still standing, but Mr. T’s was eventually torn down and is now the site of Hickman’s Exxon (another long-time Rockville establishment, but we’re talking about restaurants today, not service stations). Photo of Mr. T’s donated by Charles Brewer.
Postcards and advertisements. This circa 1940 postcard advertises Sunnyside View, a roadside all-in-one convenience stop on Route 240 (now Route 355) near Clarksburg. The illustration includes a helpful sign, “LUNCH,” on the cheerful yellow building, and the text on the back informs us that Sunnyside offered travelers “Rooms – Cabins – Chicken Dinners – Steak – Ham – Lunch – Home Cooking.” Postcard donated by Tim Parker.
Here’s a more recent postcard, circa 1980, advertising Emperor Ming Cuisine & Cocktails in Rockville. The images on the front show the interior and exterior of the restaurant; the text on the reverse does not provide details on the menu, but it does tell us that it opened in 1972, and was owned and managed by Irene K.Y. Wong. Postcard donated by Carol Cummings.
Servingware. The Cabin John Bridge Hotel, on what’s now MacArthur Boulevard in Cabin John, was Montgomery County’s ‘destination dining’ experience at the turn of the last century. Started in the late 19th century by German immigrants Joseph and Rosa Bobinger, and eventually taken over by their sons, the Hotel boasted well-appointed dining rooms, and had its own china pattern featuring an image of the namesake Bridge. (In fact there were two similar patterns; pieces marked simply “Cabin John Bridge Hotel” are earlier, and pieces featuring an entwined “BB” are later.) Patrons came from far (thanks to the trolley) and near to enjoy fine dining in Cabin John. All things come to an end, however; the Hotel closed in 1926, and burned to the ground in the early 1930s. Many surviving examples of the Hotel’s china, including the broken serving dish above, have been found in the yards of homes built in the area after the Hotel’s demise. We have several different pieces – some whole, some not – in our collections, but as an almost-archaeologist I rather enjoy the broken dishes dug up while gardening, and chose this option for today’s post. Serving dish donated by Carolyn Bryant.
Souvenirs and promotional items. Here’s a small ceramic coffee mug, given to Boy Scout leaders from the National Capital Area Council who attended the 1974 Round-Up. The front features the BSA logo and the motto “Prepare for Life ’74;” the back includes the sponsor’s logo: Gino’s, a restaurant chain started in Baltimore in the late 1950s. This particular mug belonged to Jim Douglas, Cubmaster for Cub Scout Pack 782 in Wheaton Woods. I’ve seen references to a Gino’s restaurant on Georgia Avenue in Wheaton, near present-day Glenmont Metro Station; can any blog readers confirm or deny that this was the same chain? Mug donated by Patricia Douglas.
Menus. All the items above are well and good, but what about the food that was served at these restaurants? Menus are one of the clearest ways to get at the actual dining experiences of the past, short of cranking up your time machine. We have a few menus in the artifact and archival collections; for example, here’s the “Junior Dinner” (“for children under 12 years”) on offer at Hot Shoppes* on Sunday, September 26, 1943:
Chicken Noodle Soup or Chilled Papaya Juice. ~ Chopped Sirloin Steak, Hot Shoppes Style, 55 cents. Old Fashioned Chicken Pot Pie, Toast Cube Crust, 55 cents. Baked Swordfish Steak, Mushroom Sauce, 55 cents. ~ Yellow Squash; Celery Cabbage with Russian Dressing; Tomato and Eggplant; Garden Salad Bowl; Potatoes Hashed in Cream; Green Snap Beans. Rolls and Butter. ~ DESSERTS: Orange Layer Cake; Fresh Fruit Sherbet; Hot Fudge Cake Square with Whipped Cream; Fresh Apple Sauce with Whipped Cream and Cake Fingers. ~ A&W Root Beer, Milk or Lemonade.
*Unfortunately the menu does not indicate a specific Hot Shoppes restaurant, but it may have come from the Bethesda restaurant. Menu donor unknown.
…And now it’s your turn, blog readers. I’ve no doubt left out your favorite local restaurant (not on purpose, I promise!) and the memories therein. So, help out the Historical Society and fill our comment section with restaurant reminiscences!
P.S. Fans of menus and historic meals – don’t miss the New York Public Library’s crowdsourced menu transcription project.