Fare to Remember
For their current exhibition, Lunch Hour NYC, The New York Public Library has dissected lunchtime in the city—creating various tableaus which not only explore the meal’s gastronomical progression, but its social and political evolution as well. The show begins with a history of the lunch hour in its most literal form: the business lunch. A tradition dating back over 100 years, the business lunch was (and still is) a symbol of status and success for New York professionals. A mid-day meal at Delmonico’s or The Forum of the Twelve Cesars wasn’t an option available to everyone, though. Many of the city’s most famous lunch hour institutions catered only to white male customers. The Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel, for instance, did not start serving women during lunch until 1969.
The exhibition also explores the tradition of lunch outside of restaurants—explaining everything from the evolution of the school lunch and the at-home lunch, to the curious (read: questionable) history of the New York hot dog. It even delves into the development of the delicatessen into a lunchtime staple.
Though the show is largely text-based (which is fitting given the location), there are several interactive elements as well. To the right of the entrance, for instance, you’ll find the Automat display. Here, videos and wall texts explain the history of the the original grab-and-go-lunch, while Automat replicas and recipe cards (which you are invited to keep) allow you to see firsthand how the food was prepared and served.
The exhibition provides a feast of trivia and history, and I recommend stopping by during your next lunch hour.
Image provided courtesy of the New York Public Library