Have you ever wanted to eat onboard Air Force One? According to an unrelaxed-looking man in a video on display at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley (which houses a retired Air Force One), the food on the plane is, or at least was in Reagan’s day, simple stuff – burgers and chili seemed to be the big hits.
I’m not quite sure why I went to the Ronald Reagan Library – because it was there? Because it was a punishing hot California weekend and I knew the place was going to be icily air-conditioned? Because I couldn’t resist a chance to visit the Ronald Reagan Pub which is part of the place? Well yes, chiefly that last one, I think.
The Ronald Reagan Library, at least the bit the public gets to see, is far more of a museum than a library: there are very few books around, and chiefly what you learn is that before 1981 America was controlled by a freedom-hating coalition of satanists and communists, and then Reagan came along and everything was just fine, and now he sits at God’s right hand, a good and faithful servant. I think I’ve got that right.
Alas, visitors don’t get to eat lunch onboard Air Force One, but you do get to walk through it, and see the galley, and afterwards you can have lunch in its shadow in the aforementioned Ronald Reagan Pub, which looks extremely faux (and not remotely like a pub), but turns out to be not nearly so faux as it looks. Parts of it come from the Ronald Reagan Pub in Ballyporeen, Ireland, originally O’Farrell’s, renamed after Ronnie’s visit there in 1984, and when the pub closed down in the early 2000s it was dismantled and chunks of it were sent to Simi Valley.
The sign, for instance, is perfectly authentic, and the wooden back bar and the bottles on it did look real enough, though there was an ominous sign that read “for display only.” Having seen an exhibit about Nancy Reagan’s “just say no” campaign – which apparently applied to alcohol as well as drugs - we feared the worst. But it was OK; Reagan’s Irish roots, and perhaps the fact that Coors beer is one of the museum’s major benefactors, and that Joe Coors was a member of Reagan’s “kitchen cabinet,” mean that the place isn’t dry. We had some Harp lager, and I realized it was a very long time since I had any Harp lager. “Harp Stay Sharp” indeed.
If you poke around in the online Reagan archives at the University of Texas you’ll learn that Ronald Reagan’s favourite foods included brownies, carrot cake, chocolate cake, cornbread dressing, eggplant lasagna, hamburgers (grilled), macaroni and cheese, ice cream, pumpkin pecan pie, meatloaf, split pea soup, and monkey bread. I didn’t think I’d ever heard of monkey bread – a cultural issue, I’m sure – but my wife tells me I’ve definitely eaten some, because her mother once made it for us.
In any case, rather few of these things were on sale in the Reagan Pub – though there was certainly chocolate cake. The two of us shared half an Italian grinder, which came with an individually wrapped pickle, which I’d never encountered before, and it seemed a little strange, though also a very good idea. to prevent leakage:
And then a fruit and cheese plate that was actually pretty good. Not bad cheese, plenty of walnuts, plenty of grapes. I did seem to remember something about Reagan getting into trouble for eating grapes at a press conference during the UFW grape boycott, back in the day, though I could find no mention of this in the library.
Of course, Reagan also liked jellybeans (favorite flavor licorice according to Texas U.). He started eating them when he quit smoking, and apparently kept a jar on his desk which he handed round before meetings, on the basis that, "You can tell a lot about a fella's character by whether he picks out all of one color or just grabs a handful.” I don’t doubt that this is true, though I can’t help thinking you might learn even more about a man by observing how he eats oysters or artichokes or steak tartar. Anyway, here is a portrait of Ronald Reagan in jellybeans, which appears in the library:
And here is one done in ketchup, which doesn’t: