Dinner Menu from Chinatown, San Francisco, 1939

Since I wrote about Living on $18 Dollars a Week in the 1930s, I thought this menu from a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco, dated February 17, 1939, would be appropriate. There are some surprises in addition to the prices; not least is that the cafe featured “Good Music and Dancing Every Evening.” That makes the seventy-five cent, nine course prix fixe American menu with steak or leg of lamb quite a bargain! The Chinese menu, which cost ten cents more, included crab and abalone, which may explain why it was more expensive.

Menu for New Shanghai Cafe, 453 Grant Avenue, February 1939

Menu for New Shanghai Cafe, 453 Grant Avenue, February 1939

The Chinese dinner is clearly aimed at non-Chinese customers (diners from Shanghai might be disappointed), and it was very clever to include an American menu, since 1939 was the year of the World’s Fair in San Francisco, and many tourists who had never eaten Chinese food could be expected. The group of six people whose names were written at the top of this menu included some visitors from Tennessee, probably being “shown the town” by the two San Francisco residents whose names I recognize.

Chinese Menu from New Shanghai Cafe, 1939

Chinese Dinner Offered in 1939

Chinese Prix fixe Dinner Offered at New Shanghai Cafe in 1939

Menu of American Dinner Offered at New Shanghai Cafe, 1939

American Dinner Menu, New Shanghai Cafe, 1939

American Prix fixe Dinner Menu, New Shanghai Cafe, 1939

That’s a lot of food for 75 cents.

The 1939 World’s Fair on Treasure Island

According to Wikipedia, the Golden Gate International Exposition — as the Fair was officially known –opened from February 18, 1939, through October 29, 1939, and [again] from May 25, 1940, through September 29, 1940.” Here is a picture of my grandmother (left) and other footsore visitors resting in front of the gigantic statue of “Pacifica” in 1940.

Women resting in front of the statue of Pacifica, photo printed July 1940.

Women resting in front of the statue of Pacifica, photo printed July 1940.

"Fountain Court of Flowers and Tower of Sun" -- from backs of photos

“Fountain Court of Flowers” and “Tower of Sun” at Treasure Island Fair, 1939– from backs of photos

Back & Front of Menu, New Shanghai Cafe, San Francisco, 1939

Back & Front of Menu, New Shanghai Cafe, San Francisco, 1939

You can read more about the history of the New Shanghai Cafe and other 1940s nightclubs and restaurants in San Francisco’s Chinatown in this illustrated article by Harley Spiller at Gastronomica.

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4 Comments

Filed under 1930s-1940s, Exhibitions & Museums, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, vintage photographs

4 responses to “Dinner Menu from Chinatown, San Francisco, 1939

  1. Where are you finding these treasures? Special Collections? Or do you have an archive of your own?

    • I found the dinner menu among old photographs — and it led me to the article about Chinatown nightclubs on a food website. I own a lot of old photos. But what really started this blog is my discovery that The San Francisco Public Library did not convert all of its bound periodicals to microfiche. I found a treasure trove of actual bound volumes of Delineator, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Woman’s Home Companion available by request if you reserve a day ahead. Alas, finding a bound volume of McCall’s in Northern California has been very difficult. (There may be some in the Los Angeles Public Library; you can ask your local library to search for interlibrary loans.)

  2. That is a lot of food for 75 cents. I’m glad you know who some of the dinners were. It makes me want to start swiping menus and writing all the pertinent names and dates on it!

  3. oh now I found it – what a great job you are doing out here – many thanks for your research and the link! Harley

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