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Around Town in the 1930s


this section is divided into 3 parts:


Shopping & Dining
Restaurants, department stores
and roadside establishments

Travel & Nightlife
Ballrooms, hotels,
motor courts, highway
and train travel

Town & Country
Views of city, small town
and rural life


Dining Out

In the 1930s, eating out was a rare treat. Married women were usually homemakers, and they prepared tasty, home-cooked meals for their families. For those who were hit hard by the Depression, having a restaurant meal was generally out of the question.

When we did eat out, we could choose from snack stands, cafeterias, soda fountains, roadside cafes and fancy downtown restaurants.


Automat History
Meet Me At The Automat

The Depression Cocktail....
when you didn't have a penny to your name, you could make a tasty drink using the free glass of water, ketchup and crackers provided by many cafes.

cafeteria style
*In New York City, the Automat was popular with office workers, showbiz people and boardinghouse tenants. In 1939, there were 40 Automat locations in New York.

*Bishop's was a cafeteria chain that offered free coffee refills....a new idea in the 1930s.

*Back in 1889, Childs was the Manhattan restaurant chain that introduced the self-service cafeteria concept. By 1930, there were over 100 locations throughout the country providing good food at reasonable prices. Childs had the food service contract for the 1939-40 New York World's Fair.

hamburger joints
roadside eateries

*The White Castle hamburger chain began in 1921. By 1930, it had expanded to over 100 locations nationwide.

*In 1919, the era of the drive-in restaurant was launched when the first A&W Root Beer stand opened. By 1933, there were 170 A&W drive-ins across the country.

*In the South, the Krystal hamburger chain was born in 1932, and Illinois gave us the first Steak n' Shake restaurant in 1934.

*Root beer stands selling Triple XXX Root Beer and Stewart's Root Beer were very popular.

*In 1930, Harland Sanders opened a Shell service station in Corbin, Kentucky. He was an excellent cook, and soon he was serving meals in addition to dispensing gasoline. In 1931, he moved across the street to a gas station/motel/restaurant complex, where he set up the Sanders Court & Cafe. Fried chicken was his specialty, and in the late 1930s he devised a way to make tasty chicken quickly, using the new pressure cookers that were just coming onto the market. In 1935, the governor made him an official Kentucky colonel, and today we know him as Colonel Sanders.

A&W Root Beer
White Castle
Steak n' Shake History
Sanders Court & Cafe
Triple XXX Root Beer
Vintage Roadside Eateries

fancy restaurants
fine dining

Tips On Tables: Nightclubs & Restaurants
New York City Restaurants In The 30s
Trader Vic's

*In 1930, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel opened a roof garden restaurant. While creating some hot-weather dishes to serve at this new eatery, chef Louis Diat invented a cold leek-and-potato soup known as vichyssoise.

*Don The Beachcomber opened in Los Angeles in 1934, and the first Trader Vic's opened in Oakland in 1937. Both locations featured tropical decor and exotic drinks, which made them the first tiki restaurants. The Mai Tai was also popularized at both spots.

*When prohibition ended in 1933, many illegal speakeasies became high-class establishments frequented by cafe society.

New York City
The Colony
St. Regis Hotel:
-------Maisonette Russe
Hotel Algonquin:
-------Rose Room
-------Oak Room
-------Roof Garden
21 Club
The Pierre Hotel:
-------Cotillion Room
-------Empire Room

Blackhawk Restaurant
Marshall Fields:
-------Walnut Room
Palmer House:
-------Empire Room
-------Chicago Room
Ambassador East Hotel:
------- The Pump Room
The Berghoff
Edgewater Beach Hotel:
-------Marine Dining Room

Los Angeles
Don The Beachcomber
Villa Nova

street vendors
snack stands
soda fountains

* The lunch wagons of the past were fixing themselves in permanent locations and evolving into large, prefabricated diners.

*On your next visit to Coney Island, be sure to have a hot dog at Nathan's Famous, or at Feltman's, where the modern hot dog was first sold!

diner fare
meat loaf
fried chicken
and PIE! ....always pie!

Early versions of the hot dog were first sold by German-American street vendors in the 1860s. The hot dog in its modern form was first sold at Coney Island in 1867. In 1939, Coney Island celebrated this American original by hosting National Hot Dog Day.

Nathan's Famous

*A shopping trip wasn't complete without a stop at the local drugstore lunch counter!

Walgreens soda fountain

Grand View Point Hotel
Jack Dempsey's Restaurant
New York City Restaurants In The 30s

other restaurants

*In Pennsylvania, the Grand View Point Hotel was shaped like a big steamboat and offered an awesome view of the surrounding countryside.

*By 1931, the three Brown Derby locations in the Los Angeles area were famous for their star-studded clientele.

*The first Howard Johnson's ice cream parlor opened in Massachusetts in 1925. Sandwiches were added to the menu, and by the late 1930s the chain was opening restaurants all along the East Coast.

*In New York City, patrons enjoyed dining at Jack Dempsey's Restaurant (1935) and the Brass Rail.

*In 1937, Joe DiMaggio's parents opened a San Francisco restaurant named after the baseball legend....Joe DiMaggio's Grotto.

*Schrafft's was a popular chain of family restaurants that grew out of a handful of candy stores. By 1934, there were 42 locations, including several in New York and one in the Chrysler Building.

small town eateries

from the Woodstock, Illinois 1938 town directory....
Benton Street Restaurant ("just good food")
Holsum Restaurant
Dixie Lunch
Anna May Tea Room
Riley's Cafe
The Double Dipper
The Igloo
1935 restaurant prices
soup with bread..............................5c
complete meal with coffee, tea
--------or buttermilk......................10c to 25c
3 large pork chops..........................30c

Click here for more restaurants from the 1930s!

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other pages in this section:
Travel & Nightlife
Town & Country

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