Of all the people, places, and events that evoke nostalgia for vintage Las Vegas, food is one of the things that often inspires our most powerful memories. Past meals with family and friends, favorite comfort food dishes, waitresses that seem like family, classic decor—all of these make us yearn to revisit restaurants that were part of our past. With Thanksgiving right around the corner, let’s take a look at some classic restaurant menus from Fremont Street casinos that take us back to the days of 10 cent coffee and 25 cent fruit pies.
These coffee shop menus from the late 1950s are remarkably similar in their offerings and their pricing so we know that competition must have been stiff at the time. They also provide a fascinating study in changing culinary tastes. Who would think of ordering stewed prunes and Kadota figs these days or chopped chicken livers as an appetizer? They don’t sound appealing to our modern palates but in the 1950s, they were a common sight on most casino coffee shop menus on Fremont Street and the Las Vegas Strip.
The El Cortez has been a stalwart presence on Fremont Street since 1941, and its exterior remains largely unchanged. This menu dates from 1958 and shows the typical range of a coffee shop menu at the time. The most expensive items on the menu are the steaks from the broiler. For the more budget conscious, the cheese on saltines at 30 cents was a good value. It’s strange to imagine a time when cottage cheese and fruit was a regular offering.
The Golden Nugget, which has anchored the corner of Fremont Street and First Street for more than 70 years, had a much different look in 1958 than its sleek design today, and the interior of its menu clearly showcases the casino’s Gay Nineties theme. Although we see many of the same dishes, its menu was much more extensive and gourmet than that of the El Cortez. A large range of expensive fish dishes as well as broiled meats, fancy soups and hot entrees were showcased on the left, while the less expensive options were highlighted on the righthand side. It’s not often that you see a Monte Cristo sandwich offered these days! The Sanka and Postum seem like relics of a bygone age but they were really just decaffeinated coffee options.
Our final walk down memory lane brings us to the Mint Hotel circa late 1950s. It is best remembered for its striking hot pink neon whoosh sign, which also features prominently on both the exterior and the interior of its menu. Of the three menus, it is the least expensive but shares many similarities with the others. Again we see fruit and cottage cheese featured prominently, and chicken liver makes an appearance, but this time as a grilled sandwich. We’re not quite sure why anyone would order a cool and refreshing glass of buttermilk, but it was apparently a typical offering as all three of the menus feature it under their beverage selections.
For the most part, this culinary tour has revealed that we would have much in common with diners of mid-century modern Las Vegas, but perhaps we can all breathe a sign of relief that chicken liver has fallen out of fashion on today’s menus.
Su Kim Chung, Ph.D., has been immersed in the history of Las Vegas since she began work in the UNLV Libraries Special Collections & Archives Division in 1999. She is the author of multiple editions of the book Las Vegas Then and Now.