I come by my habit of collecting matchbooks and cards from restaurants honestly. My mother has, or had, a large collection of restaurant matches. That was simply part of the restaurant experience: get some matches at the end. She never smoked, so smoking had nothing to do with it.
These days you’re more likely to get a business card than a matchbook, but I still collect whatever’s available. Back in April, I was a little disappointed to discover that the Cuban restaurant we visited in Tampa (Carmen’s) had no matches or cards to give away.
This came to mind over the weekend when I assimilated the collection of cards and matches accumulated in my former office into my larger collection at home. At home, I have three former fruit-cake tins nearly full of matches, a business card-holder full of cards (104, I just counted), and probably that many loose cards.
They’re good memory aids, like snapshots. Better in some ways, because rather than looking at a fixed image, they evoke some other kind of memory: the taste of something you ate, a bit of odd décor, someone else at the table with you.
For instance, one beaten up box, emptied of its matches, says Restaurant Metro. 2400 Lübeck-Gr. Burgstrasse 59. Täglich kalte und warme. Speisen von 11 Uhr bis 23 Uhr. See Sunday’s small posting for my arrival in Lübeck—this is where I had lunch with my friend Rich later that day. All I remember is that the service was glacially slow.
Keeping in a German theme, another matchbook I have is from Gerst-House Restaurant. Famous German Style Foods. Draft Beer. Nashville, Tenn. Free Parking. Did that place ever have good pigs’ knuckles. The key was the sauce.
Picked more or less at random, there’s also a reminder of Arthur Bryant’s, a superb barbecue shack in Kansas City, Mo.; the dining room of the remote Kalaloch Lodge on the coast in Washington state; Mama Desta’s Red Sea, on Clark Street in Chicago, where I used to introduce out-of-town guests to the pleasures of Ethiopian food; Gautama, an Indian restaurant in Osaka; Arizona Charlie’s, a second-string casino in Vegas that had huge, terrific breakfasts for about $3 even after the trend for Strip casinos was to make their food service into profit centers, too.
Fine memory aids. Unless, of course, they evoke no memory.
Al’s Steak House. Entertainment Nightly. The Finest in Food & Cocktails. 1990 W. Jefferson St., Joliet, Ill. The matchbook’s a dull red with a fleur-de-lis as the only decoration. I don’t remember spending much time in Joliet, or at any steakhouses there. My best guess would be on one of few business trips I took while working at the Law Bulletin, 1987 to 1990. Probably with Ernie, my boss, who was fond of steakhouses.
There’s also Barney’s Market Club. For Great Steaks. Since 1919. 741 W. Randolph, Chicago, IL 372-6466. With a small drawing of a prosperous fat man, ca. 1940, complete with cigar and caption: Yes sir! Senator. Another steakhouse I don’t remember, and the matchbook shows its age—pre-1990 again, I’m sure—with its missing area code. Every place in metro Chicago was 312 until the late 1980s, and even then we got only two area codes.
Labels: Arizona, Chicago, Germany, Nashville