Air Conditioning in Restaurants

“The greatest contribution to civilization in this century may well be air-conditioning.”

–S. F. Markham, British scholar, 1947

Just as refrigeration affected eating patterns as access to food changed, modern air conditioning changed dining patterns in American restaurants. Air conditioning began appearing in restaurants in the 1920s and became more commonplace after World War II. The increase of its use in restaurants not only improved conditions for restaurant diners and staff, but contributed to an increase in dining out and in tourism, especially during the warm summer months and in southern climates.  Along with movie theaters, restaurants and cafés became popular places to escape from the heat.  Not only did it help cool the air in hotter months, but it also removed stale air and food smells from the restaurant, and made for an overall more pleasant experience.

The following menus from the CIA Menu Collection highlight the ways that restaurants advertised their air-conditioned dining rooms.

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Hotel Astor
New York, New York

Before air conditioning, al fresco and rooftop dining were two popular options for avoiding the hot and stuffy restaurants in summers in New York City.  The Hotel Astor was one of many hotels in New York City to offer patrons a rooftop garden, complete with restaurant dining, a dance floor, bandstand, and the cool breezes off the river on a warm summer night.  By the 1950s, the space was air-conditioned but still featured top performers, pre-theater dinners, and evening-long entertainment.

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“In the 1920s, air-conditioning spread into stores, skyscrapers, theaters, restaurants, and trains, familiarizing the consumer with its benefits and making people more accustomed to an enclosed, artificial environment.  By the 1930s, many firms saw enormous potential for domestic sales and began a fierce competition for a market that only developed after World War II.”

Concise Encyclopedia of the History of Energy, edited by Curtis Cleveland, Elsevier, 2009.

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“Air-conditioned movie theaters, restaurants, and businesses, however, are even more responsible for creating the American culture of ‘cool comfort.’ Movie theaters specifically used the promise of an afternoon away from the heat to sell tickets. Air-conditioned stores did more business on hot days when customers came to browse to escape the heat. The heat also drove customers into cool restaurants where they did not have to slave over a hot stove. Eventually, movie theaters, stores, and restaurants became part of the ubiquitous mall, where shoppers can luxuriate in the cool air as they browse through a number of stores without going outside.”

–Susanna Robbins, “Keeping Things Cool: Air Conditioning in the Modern World,” Magazine of History Oct. 2003.

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Trocadero Grill Room
London, England
1937

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Columbia Restaurant
Tampa, Florida

“Casimiro [Hernandez] Jr. aspired to take the Columbia beyond its humble beginnings and envisioned an elegant dining room with music and dancing, the likes of which were unheard of in this part of the country at the time. During the height of the Depression, he took a chance by building the first air-conditioned dining room in Tampa, complete with an elevated dance floor. He named it the Don Quixote Room.” –Columbia Restaurant website, 2017

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Nickodell Restaurant
Hollywood, California
mid-20th century

Nickodell’s was adjacent to a Paramount movie studio on Melrose Avenue and was frequented by the movie crews and actors, including Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

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Le Café Chambord
New York, New York
1945

“Scientifically Air Conditioned”

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River Crest Farm Dining Room
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
1949

Air conditioning not only led to the rise in indoor leisure activities, but also led to a rise in tourism, especially to southern climates like Florida in warmer months.

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Atlantic Sea Grill Steak House
Bangor, Maine
1953

“Air Conditioned With Frigidaire”

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L’Armorique Restaurant
New York, New York
1963

L’Armorique Restaurant advertises its air conditioning on the cover and states on the inside that it would be open all summer for the World’s Fair. The 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair brought people from all over the country to New York and gave them their first glimpses of new technology, such as computers, punch cards, and telephone modems.

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Maxim’s
Paris, France

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Tudor Hall, King George Hotel
Athens, Greece
1964

This menu, written in Greek, French and English, advertises its air conditioning directly above the restaurant’s name. The King George Hotel is a luxury hotel in Athens; the restaurant overlooks the Acropolis.

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