Eddington lecture explores the relationship between food and performance in Las Vegas

Editor’s note:

Gary Itari Associate Professor of English at the University of North Carolina-Asheville is working on an upcoming book-length project, From the Northern Club to Hell’s Kitchen: A History of Las Vegas Foodways. As part of the Eadington Fellowship with UNLV Special Collections and Archives, Etari will present the lecture “Menus, Theater and Market: The History and Aesthetics of Food in Las Vegas” at 3 p.m. on July 14 in the Goldfield Room at Lied Library. RSVP is required.


Food has played an important role in the way Las Vegas markets itself ever since the city began to transform itself into a “destination.” In order to understand how Las Vegas became the city that it is, it is necessary to understand the important role that food and food marketing played during its rise to one of the world’s major tourist destinations.

My work on the history of food in Las Vegas focuses on how food and drink were marketed and served to the tourists and workers who began flocking to the area beginning in the 1930s. A large part of my project involves careful scrutiny of menus and other food advertisements and promotions created by many resorts and restaurants in Las Vegas.

Theater Door List, 1950 (UNLV Special Collections and Archives)

Because my project pays a great deal of attention to aesthetic presentation and food marketing, many documents from the collections and archives of UNLV University Libraries have been vital to my research. The wide range of menus in private collections and archives, for example, illustrate a variety of ways in which food has been combined by many Las Vegas hotels and casinos with theater and entertainment. Menus from Caesar’s Palace and El Rancho Vegas, for example, combine the traditional menu of food items on any menu with illustrations and layouts that visually recall the stage’s decorations. Some menus, in fact, are a mix of menu and playbill, indicating how far Las Vegas is going to ramp up and improve both food and performing arts consumption.

Other groups, too, have noted the close relationship between food and theater. Nat Hart’s Professional Papers contains many documents relating to the relationship between food and entertainment, not the least of which is training manuals for a number of resorts and casinos, some of which encourage employees to think of themselves as actors in a play and provide detailed scripts to save for use when employees encounter the casino or hotel guests. These collections illustrate the intended and endearing ways in which food has been used and presented to help create an enhanced tourism experience and build the identity of the city itself.

These documents, along with many others in private collections and archives, provide insight into the evolution of food and beverage marketing in Las Vegas.

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The William R. Eadington Fellowship Program is sponsored by the UNLV Center for Game Research in the Collections and Archives of University Libraries. Selected as part of a competitive application process, Eadington Fellows offer two- or four-week residencies in Las Vegas for academic researchers to explore the collection’s unique game collections and private archives. The fellowships are named after Eadington, a pioneer in the academic study of gambling and the founding director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Business Games at UNR.

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