Issue 30

Omaha Restaurant Matchbook Memories

Omaha Restaurant Matchbook Memories

Restaurant memories are intangible and tangible; taste, smell, ambiance, service, stand-out dishes, dining companions, a romantic evening, indigestion, disrupted sleep, heartburn, hangover, and weight gain, evidenced by increasing belt size. And, there is memorabilia. Toothpicks, menu, napkin, swizzle stick, doggy bag, mints and candies, the bill, and the ubiquitous matchbook.

A matchbook assemblage, by Alexander Girard, a matchbook and restaurant designer, at the Orange County Museum of Art “Pop Art Design” exhibition caught the corner of my eye. Later we ate at Vaca, one of 15 California’s eateries on OpenTable’s “Top 100 Hot Spot Restaurants in America.” The cashier station at this Costa Mesa Spanish eatery had little matchboxes. California restaurants are smoke free. Retro shock evaporated, they held petite wood toothpicks.

During 42 years in Omaha I probably ate out once a week. Although I don’t smoke, a trickle of matchbooks accumulated in a shoe box beginning with a 1956 California Redwoods vacation. The matchbooks kindle memories.

The golden age of the matchbook marketing flickered after the Surgeon General’s 1964 report on the hazards smoking. Half a century later “no smoking sections” in restaurants and other public places are simply smoking prohibited. Matchbooks became relics. They conjured manliness, liberated women, and romance, not unhealthy addiction. John Wayne advertised Camels not Marlborough, lost a lung to cancer in 1964, and died in 1979.

My 38 matchbooks and matchboxes included Bercima (too short lived), Bomba Dia, Boston Sea Party, Caffé Rose, Carnavale, Chi Chi’s, Di Coppia, The Diner, E. J.’s Café, Elmo Fudd’s (many eateries at 19th and Harney across from my law office in the old library), Friday’s, Gallagher’s, The Golden Apple, House of Cathay, Imperial Palace, J.B. Briggs & Company, Jones Street Brewery, Le Café, Le Café de Paris, M’s Pub, Noah’s, Pefferoni’s, Polos, Varieties, and Vivace. Only eight remain in business; Cascio’s, Dubliner, Farmer Brown’s, Flatiron, Greek Islands, Jaipur, Mahogany, Perkins, and Spaghetti Works.

On eBay you can find matchbooks from Angelo’s Bar & Lounge, Anchor Inn, Anthony’s, Arthur’s, Blackstone’s Orleans Room and Plush Horse, Caniglia’s, Cantoni’s, Catfish Charlie’s, Dixon’s, Godfather’s, Grisanti’s, Harry’s Restaurant and Key Klub, Henry VIII, Hrupek’s, Jack and Jill’s, Johnny’s Café, M’s, Marchio’s, Maria’s, Montana Mining Company, Nasr’s, Nelsons Landing, Northrup Jones, Paradise Lounge, Ross’, Salvatore’s, Silver Lining Eppley Airfield, Town House, Trentino’s, Trini’s, White Horse in Regis. Most matchbooks cost $3 to $5.

The five best intersections of memories and graphics were Gallagher’s at Shaker Place on my Pacific St. flight path; The Golden Apple, a silk covered matchbox, on Dodge with Brittany Crepes and Swiss Fondue where we entertained my parents in the mid-1970s, now a medical building; Café Carnavale on Pacific which also housed B. Piggs and Fernando’s; Dundee’s Bomba Dia at 50th and Underwood, with a sensual painting on the front, the site of our 35th wedding anniversary with 30 guests, site of several restaurants; and two different matchboxes for Le Café de Paris on S. 6th St, a place to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and out of town guests, now Chef Hattam Catering.

Almost all the restaurants were locally owned. Matchbooks identify the manufacturer or distributor in very small letters. Local suppliers included Nogg Brothers, Art Wears, Ranelis’ Sales Co., Roberts Adv, Diamond Match, Regal Advertising Specialties, Curt Ralston Co., J. Michael Murphy, All Amer Adv. Spec Co., Midwest Food Dist, and All America Match & Spec Co.

Matchbooks ignite memories of forgotten delights.


Oliver Pollak

Oliver Pollak

Oliver B. Pollak taught history at the University of Nebraska at Omaha for 38 years. He earned his doctorate at UCLA and law degree at Creighton University. He has published ten books and hundreds of scholarly and popular articles on many subjects including food and wine.

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