It is Hollywood’s glitziest night, but the Academy Awards hasn’t fed its guests for decades. Unlike at the boozy, food-rich Golden Globes, stars on Oscar night go hungry until the Governors Ball after-party catered by Wolfgang Puck. But the ceremony itself wasn’t always so Spartan. At the first ever Academy Awards in 1929, held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, the likes of Janet Gaynor and Charlie Chaplin dined on multiple courses—from celery stalks to broiled chicken on toast.
While the menu might not stand up to Puck’s caviar-laced bites and gold-leaf chocolate statuettes, the smorgasbord represented the height of haute cuisine at the time. “The items were reflective of what Hollywood considered to be sophisticated European tastes and the dining trends of the time,” says Juan Pineda, a director of entertainment at the Hollywood Roosevelt. Even if the food was less than mouthwatering, there was plenty of alcohol to dull the senses. “The champagne was definitely flowing. They definitely served a lot of champagne and a lot of wine,” says Pineda.
While the gleeful evening, spearheaded by Louis B. Mayer and Douglas Fairbanks, may have seemed at odds with the rest of the country (1929 also spawned the Great Depression), Pineda says the ceremony reflected Hollywood’s sensitivity to the era’s financial woes. “Items like string beans and potatoes represented Depression-era cuisine,” he says.
Luckily, the Academy got a good deal on the venue; Fairbanks was also a financier of the Hollywood Roosevelt. The then two-year-old hotel’s celebrity cache had made it a silent film–era hotspot—and its Spanish-style, 4,500-square-foot Blossom Ballroom was sizeable enough to house the night’s 270 guests.
While the ceremony migrated to the Ambassador Hotel the following year, the Roosevelt has been steeped in celebrity ever since. Now operated by Journal Hotels, the hotel organizes viewing parties and special menus to remember its place in Oscars history. Though in 1929 no women were nominated outside the Best Actress category, this year, the hotel’s mixologists will salute the five women who have since been nominated in the Best Director category, with cocktails like the “The Lady Bird,” a blend of Tanqueray Ten, chartreuse, maraschino and fresh limes.
So will chicken on toast make a cameo? “That’s a very good question,” says Pineda. “Avocado toast has become such a big thing that maybe we’ll put chicken on toast, too, just like in 1929.”