Menu design is a curious discipline. The way a restaurant styles their list of eats says as much (and maybe more) about them as the decor and foods themselves. There’s the “ethnic” restaurant menu, most commonly seen in small Asian or Mexican establishments, where full-color photos dominate and descriptions are hard to find. You’ve got your old school fine dining menu with a cursive script on thick white paper, encased in a leather folder. If your fine dining restaurant serves food of French or Italian persuasion, you may require a translator. There’s the new american/trendy/Brooklyn menu which combines descriptive adjectives, off-white paper, local food and kale.
Menus, in fact, say so very much about what the restaurant you’re dining in thinks of itself that it’s become easy to stereotype. Most of us don’t think of how our menu is designed until we notice something particularly bad. Usually this takes the form of a funny typo or when we find our food “nestling in a bed” of something. But menus don’t have to range from stereotypical to awful. They can – as it turns out – be works of art as well. (Just don’t go spilling your drink all over it.)
London’s Beaufort Bar recently commissioned illustrator Joe Wilson and “paper engineer” Helen Friel to create a cocktail menu that is both delightful and descriptive. Its creation took them a full year. The result? Possibly the world’s first pop-up menu.
In addition to all the normal menu ingredients – the name of the drink, what you’ll find inside it – each page has a pop-up illustration of the cocktail in its preferred habitat. Embankment Gardens, a mixed drink described as “inspired by the beautiful gardens which flank our south side” is shown in the midst of those very gardens. Ol’ Blue Eyes, a Frank Sinatra-inspired cocktail is shown wearing a snazzy bow-tie and sitting in the midst of piano keys accompanied by a lounge singer. This is more than a menu, more than even a cocktail book. I can be someone and somewhere else if I just order the right drink.
I don’t know why you choose one cocktail over another. In my case, it has a lot to do with my mood, the weather outside, and the atmosphere of the bar. After recently seeing a film about jazz musicians, my fellow movie-goer and I roamed to the nearest speakeasy-inspired bar to order whiskey-based cocktails. I may not play jazz but I can drink like Miles Davis! Tiki bars are another perfect example – they’re a way to play pretend, not reproduce authentic Polynesian culture.
A menu like this may be impractical for most uses but it gives me hope that – at least in one London bar – someone is thinking about how to make a cocktail more than just another beverage
-Tove K. Danovich