Bal Tabarin, San Francisco, Wine List 1930s
A fish, a clam, a cigar, a chicken, a steer, a lobster and a winter radish called a daikon dance around a wine bottle. All were elegantly dressed, because this was the wine list cover at the Bal Tabarin restaurant and nightclub in San Francisco in the 1930s.
In 1931, in anticipation of the repeal of Prohibition in the United States, architect Timothy L Pfleuger was contracted to design a restaurant and a stage for live music and dance shows in a comfortable and sophisticated atmosphere that would appeal to both men and women.
It was unusual for the era as most nightclubs were not decorated to appeal to women. The cocktail bar, which would have been forced to serve only soft drinks initially, was in Moderne style, typical of the jazz age.
The stage design used Pflueger’s patented indirect lighting hidden behind curved strips of decorated metal, with the color from the façade capable of being changed from one hue to another.
In 1933, two years later, alcohol bans were lifted nationwide, and the Bal Tabarin was issued California’s first liquor license. In the newly stocked cocktail bar, there was also a champagne fountain.
The person behind this marvelous wine list illustration was the satirical artist Philip Little (1887-1960). Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, Little was a land and seascape painter who also did commercial art work.
He was employed by San Francisco’s Chamber of Commerce to draw many of the city’s buildings in adverts, for example.
He was also a caricaturist, and this talent is evident in this wine list menu cover, probably the establishment’s first after the repeal of Prohibition, as these anthropomorphic characters show the celebratory nature of these times.
Green Devil and Havana Punch cocktails were available for 50c as well as German, French. Italian and California wines and multiple vintages of 1920s champagnes, which had been carefully hoarded. the interior menu also featured poems about wine and other caricatures.
The Bal Tabarin became one of the city’s premier nightspots – a critic said it ‘set the tempo for nightly festivity.’
The establishment was sold in 1951 to Augustino ‘Bimbo’ Giuntoli, the owner of Bimbo’s 365.
Each order includes a print of the interior menu.
All printed in USA.