John’s Menu: Plain, Simple, and Speaking Volumes


    Although change is necessary to progress, the stability and familiarity associated with consistency has the habit of giving people a peace of mind that cannot be found in updated technology or altered hemlines.  The past can help one ground oneself, giving people a means to relate to each other based in fond nostalgia through tradition.  Sometimes that tradition involves prayer or going to a particular area, and more likely than not that tradition involves food.
John’s of 12th Street is the full embodiment of food as tradition.  Hailed as the “East Village’s most authentic Italian restaurant” in the entirety of the East Village’s Italian restaurants, John’s menu has remained virtually unchanged since it opened its doors in 1908, despite the addition of its “vegetarian-friendly” platters.  The take-home menu is plain enough: cheap printer paper, white, with the John’s logo looming above the address, all in red.  “Free delivery, 7 days a week,” it claims, sounding very modern ad-man indeed.  But in its simplicity there are a few key features which stand out, features which reflect that John’s, despite the new-age vegetarianism and the selling component, hasn’t changed all that much from the century in which is was born.
For one thing, right beneath the address and the proudly-displayed birth date reads the subtext “Credit Cards Are Not Accepted.”  In an automated world were things are transferred through plastic cards, the concept of having to pay with paper cash has become absolutely alien and, as a consequence, antiquated.  Already this is reflective of the time from which John’s was established, where money in its physical form was what made the world go round.  Only a little over two decades after it was first built would John’s be surrounded by a world ultimately ruined by credit, only to watch the same thing happen decade after decade.  So, maybe with this in mind or maybe not, the restaurant has remained a strict “cash only” policy, letting people know by displaying it on its menus.  This only seems to add to its “no-nonsense” attitude, something which the gangsters which frequently sat at its tables were made of.   Again, this attitude is a reflection of the past, for people these days seem more willing to shamelessly compromise at the expense of their integrity rather than remain in a firm position.  The menu indicates this attitude right off the bat, and with that causes the initial appeal.
Yet it isn’t just the exhibition of a cash-only attitude which makes the menu at John’s so era-centric.  It is the repetition of the restaurant’s location and even the showy font branding the name which expresses one of the most prevalent needs in an era where creating a Facebook page was not an option: leaving a mark.  Before there were blogs there were uncharted territories, lands that could be named after those who set foot on them so their memory could live on long after they were gone.  John Pucciatti lived in a time when he was just another struggling Italian immigrant attempting to make a living on the Lower East Side.  Yet as opposed to going the ordinary route of working the factories or as a tailor, John decided to open a place that took pride in what was considered a belittling ethnicity.  He provided people with the alcohol when they could not obtain it anywhere else, and opened his doors to people others did not dare to look in the eye.  On top of it all, he put his name on it, displaying it in swooping pink neon right above the front door and pasting it all over the menu.  It is John’s of 12th Street, not on, granting the memory of John and the time he lived in an eternal ownership of a physical part of the city itself.  He conquered the territory and left his mark, letting people know through a simple leaflet of food that he’s here to stay.
Time may be of the essence, but the essence which defines a time is what gives the past its allure.  This allure creates nostalgia, and this is the true element which allows for places such as John’s to remain the same for over a hundred years.  It reminds people that there are more substantial ways for letting future generations know that one existed.  Sometimes all it takes is an opportune location, a mouth-watering menu, and a century’s worth of grumbling stomachs.


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