Today is National Garlic Day – a day to celebrate all aspects of this allium. In nostalgic dining terms it made me think about a 90’s themed restaurant that has stood the test of time – naturally that theme is garlic and the restaurant is The Stinking Rose.
Themed restaurants really started to build momentum in the early 80’s with the emergence of brands such as Planet Hollywood, TGI Fridays and Bill Wyman’s Sticky Fingers. They signified an important shift in eating out from being a special occasion experience to being a leisure activity.
The Stinking Rose (the name the Romans gave to garlic due to its overpowering taste and smell) opened its doors in San Francisco in 1991 with an original concept of ‘garlic with everything’. Such was its success that the owners opened the second Stinking Rose in Beverley Hills, 5 years later.
Aphrodisiac, currency, food, medicine, vampire repellent – garlic has had many uses through the ages. I asked Brandy Marts, Director of Marketing for The Stinking Rose about the secret of the restaurants’ success and longevity. She said, “Garlic is an obsession with some and we know by the hundreds of thousands of people who have come to what they call “Garlic Mecca”, that it is a growing and continuing obsession.”
“The health giving benefits of garlic are part of the attraction, as is the fun, whimsical ambience, but it’s the flavours that people come for. Our motto is, ‘we season our garlic with food’ and some visitors can’t get enough of the fragrant herb, whilst others pay the price if they over indulge!” says Brandy.
The Stinking Rose serves over 3,000 pounds of the pungent herb each month and welcomes many famous people from the King of Jordan to Dr. Dre.
A friend of mine David, garlic lover and dedicated gourmand, recalls his trip to the San Francisco branch with his wife in the early 90s. “We were shown into a booth rather like the table seats on a train, but much grander and with curtains which would give complete privacy if you wanted it.”
He said, “Even though we were full from our main course, we had to try the garlic ice cream. It was ice cream and tasted of, well garlic! It was a bit weird but delicious.”
The garlic experience at The Stinking Rose doesn’t end at the dining table. There’s also a gift shop where you can buy no end of garlic paraphernalia. T-shirts, baseball caps are fairly standard for any themed restaurant, but a little more unlikely are the garlic-scented candles, garlic-flavoured fudge and wine (no, thanks), and, of course, garlic-flavoured condoms! There’s a joke in there somewhere, but I’m far too professional to publish it!