Tasty Exhibit: SoCal's Famous Menus

Several retro LA menus will go on display at the Central Library.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The Brown Derby
    The famous -- and not-so-famous -- menus of Los Angeles get their own savory spotlight in the upcoming To Live and Dine in LA exhibit. It's cooking up memories at the Central Library in 2015.

    There are things that arrive on paper, often with illustrations, that are happy-making -- say, a favorite storybook from childhood -- and there are some things that arrive on paper, with prices, that tend to cause heartburn -- say, an unexpected bill for that car problem you believed was solved.

    But what's the paper item that arrives bearing a bunch of prices and oftentimes illustrations that inspires the reader to be flush with good feeling? It is, indeed, a menu. And when you're holding one in your hands, dreaming of the club sandwich or steak you're about to enjoy, all feels pretty dang right in your world.

    And if your world has been Los Angeles over the last 30 or 40 or 70 years, you've likely seen your fair share of colorful, wacky, and elegant menus, many for restaurants that have been gone for 30 or 40 or 70 years.

    Many of those menus, perhaps even a menu you once held, are cataloged within the Los Angeles Public Library. It's a "vast collection," says the library, and numerous artifacts will go on display at the Central Library as part of the To Live and Dine in LA exhibit.

    The exhibit, due in 2015, is as big as buffet: USC Annenberg professor Josh Kun and several of his students "combed the Library's roughly 9,000-piece menu collection, piecing together an unprecedented history of how, where, and what people ate in Los Angeles over the past century."

    You'll see some famous hotspots in the mix -- hiya, Brown Derby -- and some locations that have completely slipped your memory, and probably our collective city memory, too.

    Thank goodness something that can be as ephemeral as a menu is being looked after, and collected, by our library system. What are the menus we collect? Take-out places down the street? Perhaps, but we likely don't have 9,000 of them stuffed in a kitchen drawer.

    A book and public programs will be tied with the large-scale menu-and-restaurant exhibit. To have a peek at what's to come, much in the way one might when scanning a menu ahead of an anticipated meal, tuck in your napkin and make for the official To Live and Dine in LA headquarters.

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