By Pablo Starr
October 1, 2016
FLYING HIGH: INTERVIEW WITH ANTHONY TOTH
Anyone who doubts that airline travel is inherently glamorous should look no further thanKarl Lagerfeld‘s Spring 2016 Paris Fashion Week airport show for Chanel. What’s not sexy about traveling by airplane?
Well, as it turns out: lots of things. Legroom is cramped (for most of us, anyway), food is less-than-exciting (although your mileage may vary), and it can be a struggle to look terrific while staying comfortable. (For some tips on how to do it right, look no further than the Olsen Twins, or Karlie Kloss.)
If we need any reminder that the Golden Age of Airline Travel may have waved goodbye from the tarmac some time ago, look no further than the Pan Am Experience.
The Pan Am Experience — a dining adventure that recreates the luxury airline travel of yesteryear — is the brainchild of film & television aviation prop master Anthony Toth, who literally held the first Pan Am Experience in his garage. Now the experience is run out of Air Hollywood.
Being both travel fans and mid-century style fans, we couldn’t resist finding out more.
Q: The Pan Am Experience is a unique dining experience, to say the least. How did you develop your passion — one might even say “obsession” — for vintage Pan Am?
When I was five years old, my parents took me on my first airplane trip across the Atlantic on a Pan Am 747. The experience had a significant impact on my life.
Imagine walking on board the airplane back then. First, aircraft with a winding staircase — the first double-decker — and two beautiful stewardesses in brand new Pan Am uniforms. I instantly became fascinated with all things aviation.
I started collecting things: small things back then. Timetables, models, etc. But as I grew older, my fondness for airlines and aviation in general became significant. I bought my first set of airline seats at age 16, and the Pan Am 747 began to take shape. Every year I would add aircraft pieces (fuselage, overhead bins, seats), eventually a winding staircase, etc. I started restoring the interior of the aircraft in the late ’90s with the ultimate goal of having the exact replica interior of the famous brand.
Along the way I amassed a sizable collection of china, glassware, linen, uniforms … just about anything with a Pan Am logo on it.
Q: The post-mid century era brings so many things to mind: from the first digital watches to the golden age of James Bond. There’s something so playful and innocent about that time. What draws you to the era?
It was during this period in America when people dressed up to fly. Once on board, the stewardess added to the excitement of flight. They wore uniforms created by designers; they were young and sexy. Airlines went out of their way to pamper, spoil, and lure passengers. Flying back then was as much about the ride as it was about the destination.
Q: How was flight different then, versus today?
When I think back to the late ’60s and early ’70s, the one thing that stands out in my mind is the attention to brand. Back then, airlines had to compete on brand. We were a regulated airline industry. Airfares and routes were controlled by the DOT, and the way an airline competed was on brand. And that created amazing cabin interiors, fantastic accommodations on board, and really sexy stewardesses. Even the food was amazing.
When I walked on board an airplane in the ’70s, you new EXACTLY what airline you were on. No two airlines looked alike, and for me the journey on the airplane was really more important than the destination. I found airline branding so memorable that it kind of shaped my life and inspired me to collect the way I have all my life.
Now today, we have something that did not exist back then. Affordability and choice. Air travel was very expensive back then, and the average person couldn’t afford to fly.
And from a choice standpoint, there were, say, one or two flights daily between Los Angeles and New York. Today, there are literally 100 ways to get there.
So there are great things about air travel today that we sometimes take for granted.
Q: The Pan Am Experience uses real vintage china, linens, and stemware from Pan Am. Tracking all that down, in itself, seems like quite an amazing feat! How was that even possible?
So I am probably one of the world’s most serious aviation collectors.
While I don’t know for sure, I’ve never actually met anyone who has more aviation memorabilia than me. Oftentimes, in my line of work, I meet people who claim to have larger collections, but usually after they visit our studio at Air Hollywood, they realize the significant quantity of aviation memorabilia I have amassed.
When you’re passionate about something, you find ways to acquire things. And that’s exactly what I have done for many years. In addition to the Pan Am memorabilia, we have a considerable amount of other aviation memorabilia at Air Hollywood, and we can recreate almost any airline from the past. We have done multiple projects that included vintage aviation scenes for many movies and television shows.
Q: I once tracked down a copy of The Playboy Cookbook so my girlfriend and I could explore some “vintage” recipes. American cuisine from the era is definitely different compared to what we have in restaurants today. What kind of menu can patrons expect at the Pan Am experience?
We work very closely with our caterer to recreate a very typical Pan Am menu from an international flight.
We are using an airline caterer who has experience in catering an aircraft. And just like any other airline, they drive their food truck up to our Pan Am 747 and load our galleys with real Pan Am carts.
On a typical Pan Am Experience flight, our passengers will experience a gourmet meal prepared and served exactly how Pan Am would have in the past. For example, on the upper deck, our menu starts with caviar service and all the accompaniments.
This is followed by choice of two appetizers, (shrimp cocktail or tomato mozzarella with a pesto glaze). Our main course features entrées such as chateaubriand carved table side, or French-cut chicken with peppercorn sauce.
Of course, cheese and fruit with port wine immediately follows, and finally a choice of some amazing desserts flows through the cabin, followed by tea and coffee. Along the meal journey, we will entertain our passengers with a one-of-a-kind fashion show, as each of our stewardesses will model their favorite Pan Am uniform from the 1960s … all the way through the last issued uniform in 1991.