New Yorkers are good at many things, but they’re especially good at eating out. Look at the number of New York ovens that are used for storage and it’s quite clear that the home-cooked meal is not a high priority. Restaurant culture is urban culture. It’s about society and ceremony and fun as much as it’s about the food. A new exhibition of vintage menus at New York’s Grolier Club celebrates the first 100 years of dining out in America, starting in 1841.

A menu from President Lincoln’s 1865 second inaugural ball at the White House, where food was served at midnight, showcases a wide selection of ornamental pyramids as well as jellies and creams. A candy-colored 1886 dinner menu from Chicago’s Palmer Hotel, which reopened after the Great Fire of 1871 burned it to the ground, advertises itself as being “thoroughly fire proof.” With a total of 225 menus from all kinds of eating establishments—Mississippi riverboats, military encampments, you name it—the show offers a dazzling decade-by-decade visual evolution of one of America’s favorite pastimes. —Clara Molot

“A Century of Dining Out: The American Story in Menus, 1841–1941” is on view at the Grolier Club, in New York, until July 29

Clara Molot is an Associate Editor for AIR MAIL