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Travel Back in Time with These Old Restaurant Menus

Old Ebbitt Grill charged 30 cents for a tuna sandwich back in 1945. Today, they serve Wagyu beef pot roast for $14.95.

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classics week logoDining trends come and go, but a handful of D.C. restaurants have been around for decades, finding ways to adapt their menus over the years in order to remain successful and relevant.

Here’s a look back in time at how the menus at a few of the city’s oldest restaurants have changed over the years, both in terms of price and what’s on the plate.


The restaurant: Old Ebbitt Grill (675 15th St, NW)


Year first opened: 1856


Yesterday’s menu: In 1945, lunch at the grill was simple and economical. Hamburgers sold for $0.15 and a tuna fish sandwich cost just $0.30. A craving for spaghetti with meatballs could be satisfied for $0.75.


To wash it down, draft beer cost $0.11 and southern-style cocktails like the sazerac and milk punch cost anywhere from $0.40 and $0.60.


Today’s menu: Old Ebbitt’s 2015 menu bears almost no resemblance to the old, simple layout. Spaghetti and meat sauce has been replaced by upscale pasta dishes like duck garganelli and lunch entrees like wagyu beef pot roast ($14.95).


Cocktails trend away from the classics and toward modern twists. The bar still serves domestic beer for $5 and Natty Boh for a reasonable $3.

Old Ebbitt Grill's 1945 Lunch Menu

Old Ebbit Grill, Lunch, 1945


The restaurant: Iron Gate (1734 N St, NW)


Year first opened: 1923


Yesterday’s menu: The dinner menu from 1968 consisted of hearty American fare. A half of broiled or pan-fried chicken cost $2.75 and a 12 oz. broiled sirloin steak was $4.50. Every entree was accompanied by baked potato, vegetables, biscuits and the restaurant’s "famous" butterscotch rolls.


Today’s menu: The revived Iron Gate has several menus, and dinner now consists of a variety of multi-course tasting menus, ranging between $60 and $110. The food is still American, and appropriately classy for 2015. Option includes more creative options such as grilled pork belly, cauliflower soup and squash tortellini.

Iron Gate Old Menu

Iron Gate Dinner Menu, 1968 (Saah Family)


The restaurant: Occidental Grill & Seafood (1475 Pennsylvania Ave, NW)


Year first opened: 1906


Yesterday’s menu: The menu from 1965 boasted a section of "appetizers and relishes," which included everything from escargots for $1.50 to $0.50 for half a grapefruit. There was also a raw bar with both shrimp and lobster cocktail, as well as raw oysters. Entrees were equally classic. A filet mignon steak and a baked potato was $5.95, and a broiled lobster ran $3.75.


Today’s menu: Occidental’s 2015 dinner dishes share a lot of similarities to the fresh, light and occasionally healthy focus of the menu. Lump crab cake ($24) and oysters are still offered as appetizers, as well as foie gras and a variety of salads. A dinner filet now costs $48 and fish preparations run upwards of $30.

The Occidental Menu (1 of 2)

The Occidental Menu (2 of 2)

Occidental Drinks


The restaurant: Ben’s Chili Bowl (1213 U St., NW)


Year first opened: 1958


Yesterday’s menu: In the late 1960s, one of Ben’s acclaimed half-smokes cost only $0.50. It also offered a double-decker "Big Ben" hamburger for $0.70. The restaurant was also very proud of its milkshakes, which cost just for $0.30 a piece. Ben's even advertised in the early 1960s that the milkshake machine itself was purchased for $3,000.


Today’s menu: Chili half smokes cost a bit more now ($5.95) but little else has changed on the Ben’s menu. There are some new healthy options like the turkey burger and the veggie dog - topped with vegetable chili.

Ben's Chili Bowl Menu

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