Finding beautifully illustrated menus is only part of our mission at Cool Culinaria. We also try to discover as much as possible about each restaurant or bar so that we can pass this information on to you. Some of this research is challenging. We loved this Thompson’s menu from Anchorage, Alaska, with its illustration of The Northern Lights – a phenomenon we yearn to see – but we could find very little information about it.
All that we unearthed was a black and white photograph in the archives of the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, showing members of the Anchorage Community Chorus having a meeting in the restaurant in the 1950s.
Then we had a brainwave. We contacted Anchorage Daily News journalist Mike Dunham and he very kindly mentioned our quest in his Art Beat column.
Within days we knew a lot more about Thompson’s.
Katherine Flynn wrote us to say: “Thompson’s was the ‘nice’ place in the 50’s. My most favorite memory of that time was going in after working at the swimming pool for my standard Chocolate Double Malt, Green Salad and Mashed Potatoes! Don’t I wish I could do that now. “
Long-time Anchorage resident Lee Jordan contacted us with a ton of really fascinating information. He wrote:” Thompson's was founded in the late 1940s by Bob and Grace Thompson. Bob was a member of the fabled "Castner's Cutthroats," a band of rugged individuals put together to provide intelligence about the Japanese invaders of the Aleutians in World War II. After the invaders were repelled in 1942, the unit was called upon to map the northern Territory of Alaska. My assumption is that Bob was involved in the latter effort and not as one of those who was landed behind enemy lines to report on their activities. The Thompsons were avid skiers and helped develop the Arctic Valley ski area on Fort Richardson, outside Anchorage. It was a joint military-civilian operation used during the war, both to train soldiers to ski for travel in remote northern areas and for off-duty recreation. A staunch supporter of the Anchorage Ski Club, Bob lost his life in 1955 when the truck he was driving to haul fuel for the ski lift rolled down the mountain. Thompson's Restaurant burned to the ground in a dramatic early-morning fire in the cold of winter. Until spring, the remains stood marked by huge tubes of ice formed by spray from fire hoses pumping water onto the burning building.”Mr Jordan, who is 82, said Thompson’s had been his favorite place to eat. “. My new bride and I stopped there one evening in 1951 and I found myself 10 cents short of covering the ticket, so I left her there while I went to borrow a dime from a buddy. Had I not been so embarrassed, I could just have asked Bob Thompson to let me catch up with it on my next visit. That good-hearted Alaskan would have gladly said "OK." he wrote.
He went on to say that Thompson’s was one of several popular places to eat in town and that it was located around the corner from the Anchorage Daily Times building. ”They all catered to working people, serving three solid meals a day, all were clean and staffed by friendly and caring people,” he continued.
He believes the menu cover was designed by commercial artist Armond Kirschbaum.
Mr Jordan went on to tell us that he founded the weekly newspaper Chugiak-Eagle River (Alaska) Star. He and his wife Barbara ran the newspaper for 30 years. Born in Alabama, he was posted to Alaska as a soldier but has called it home for the past six decades. His book Reflections of a Reluctant Alaskan is for sale on Amazon.
We also heard from Bonnie Weimer Tisler. She wrote: ” I have fond memories of Thompson's even though I could not afford to eat there. The owner, Bob Thompson, made his sidewalk available to any one who needed a ride to Arctic Valley. No one going there was to have an empty seat on the way up. It was a benefit to the driver too. He had extra weight for traction and handy pushers if he stalled or got ditched.
I was a teen who had parents that didn't ski and also didn't have time or money to take us. While standing on Thompson's sidewalk, I could see my Mother's childhood home. Her father bought the lot in the 2nd lot sale of the new townsite. She was the tenth baby born in Anchorage.
My father was a farmer and commercial fisherman. We lived a subsistence lifestyle with a large garden in town and potatoes from the farm in Sand Lake. My family lived on "the other side of the tracks" (A Street). In the 50s I would haul all my gear 10 blocks to stand outside Thompsons and wait for a ride.”
All this goes to prove our point that not only are vintage menus beautiful to look at but they also inspire amazing memories.