Las Vegas's emergence as a top culinary destination the last 50 years is reflected in a new UNLV Libraries online collection of historical menus. "Menus: The Art of Dining," includes a catalog of Las Vegas restaurant menus, which traces the early influence of gourmet cuisine in Las Vegas to the late 60s and early 70s, when many of the city's high-end restaurants, buffets, casinos and coffee shops first offered high-end menu offerings.
"There's a sense of nostalgia that resonates with any of us who want to relive the experiences we had at a particular hotel or restaurant," said Su Kim Chung, a UNLV archivist. "For Las Vegas, the menus illustrate a rich culinary history and the way people dined out and were entertained."
As an example of the rich history captured by the project, at The Caesars Palace's Bacchanal, where diners allotted three hours for the gourmet dining experience, menus were written partially in Latin and waiters dressed in togas. Guests of the Sands Hotel's Copa Showroom sampled rainbow trout with shrimp and capers while musician Wayne Newton, who graced the cover of the showroom's menu, entertained.
The Las Vegas menus are a part of UNLV Libraries' archive of 5,000 hard copies of menus, which includes the Bohn-Bettoni Collection, an extensive compilation of American, European and Canadian restaurant menus from 1870 to 1930.
UNLV Libraries began collecting menus in 1969 and added the Bohn-Bettoni Collection in 1970 when then UNLV Harrah Hotel College founding Dean Jerome Vallen and UNLV Libraries worked together to purchase the Bohn-Bettoni Collection. Vallen saw the Bohn-Bettoni Collection as a useful tool in instructing hotel college students the technique of menu writing - which is still part of the hotel college curriculum today. The Bohn-Bettoni menus also illustrate graphic design elements of particular historical time periods. In addition, local food writers, historians and restaurateurs donated many of the Las Vegas restaurant menus.
The online project is funded through a $50,000 grant from the federal Library Services and Technology Act through the Nevada State Library and Archives. UNLV Libraries' staff spent more than a year digitizing and cataloging 1,500 menus.
For more information, please visit: UNLV Libraries. Members of the public may call Special Collections at (702) 895-2234.