Let's Go Eat!

Eating has always had a social aspect, and in the 20th century the public venue for meals was the restaurant.  An amusing and popular variant of the traditional restaurant is the theme restaurant, where the space, food, and often the staff all adhere to a particular style or kitschy recreation of a time or place.  Theme restaurants usually emphasize ambience rather than food.  One of the earliest theme restaurants in the U.S. was Trader Vic's, embodying a Polynesian Island theme.  Trader Vic's was perhaps the best known, but there were many others, such as Zanzibar in San Francisco, designed by Lloyd Conrich.  Conrich also designed Gypsy's, which incorporated an ersatz diversity with both a Chinese and a Persian room.  During the 1970s, a heyday for American theme restaurants, other themes such as barns, the Wild West and the Middle Ages were popular.  Panel 7 showcases a few of the lesser known theme resaturants, such as Uncle John's Pancake House at the San Francsico International Airport.  From the pictures of Uncle John's, it is possible to see a vending area where themed merchandise is on sale.  Such sales are often an important part of the theme restuarant experience.  The Old Poodle Dog restaurant tries to evoke French aristocracy, Killen's Keltic House attempts a Scottish air with tartan walls and upholstery, surmounted by heraldic devices.


Many Northern California architects designed restaurants.  Joseph Esherick's sketches for the facade of DiNatale's in San Francisco are two of many compositions.  Warren Callister's sketch for the Lewis Street Restaurant in Connecticut includes careful notes that give insight into its planning.  His notes contrast the theatrical aspects of the restaurant--being entertained by the sight of beautiful servers--with the practical needs of the workers--room for the busboys to walk with heavy trays.  He also asks if a round bar will be "sensational" or "a pain in the ass for equipment."  Don Olsen's beach restaurant displays the influence of both austere Modernism and the direct playfulness of fast food culture.  His cube shaped building echoes the no-frills graphic presentation of early Jack-In-The-Box restaurants, which relied on the distinctiveness of the buildings themselves for consumer recognition.