Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Delicious 'Lunch Hour NYC' Exhibition Opens

Automat, 977 Eighth Ave, Manhattan. Berenice Abbott, 1936
Courtesy NYPL The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art

I love the New York Public Library even more now after catching a preview of its newest exhibition Lunch Hour NYC. This free exhibition opens Friday and celebrates the modern history of the mid day meal that NY virtually invented. 

Power lunches, the rise of the Automat, cafeterias, the soda fountain, school lunches, the 10 cent meal, the first cooking school--it's all in here. Brought to life with dozens of fascinating displays and memorabilia. And it all reflects the evolving yet enduring relationship that work obsessed and time strapped New Yorkers have always had with food. The modern lunch had to be quick, filling and inexpensive.
Video preview of exhibition

A highlight is the Golden Age of the Automat, created by Horn & Hardart, and considered a wonder of the city. Its fancy flagship location opened in Times Square in 1912 and became an instant marvel. A nickel in a slot would get you a hot, fresh, delicious meal from a machine. H&H dishes included lobster Newberg and beef Burgundy from a Cordon Bleu chef. It was the most successful restaurant operation in the country. And the exhibition includes a restored wall of Automat machines, including the back end where all the magic happened.

Other items not to miss:
  • The personal, annotated copy of Noah Webster's dictionary, noting the entry for "lunch."
  • A 1932 menu listing sushi (debunking the thought that sushi first appeared in NYC restaurants in the 1960s.)
  • Pages from the Horn & Hardart restaurant manager's book, instructing managers on preparing menu items and managing the shop
  • Menus from Delmonico's, where the power lunch was born in 1837
  • A "10 cent meal" display showing how tenement mothers fed their families on pennies a day
  • A mid 1900s business map of Midtown Manhattan, noting all of the eateries around Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street

The exhibition continues through February 17, 2013. If you've ever eaten lunch in the city, don't miss it. Check here for related programs.

Free public tours Monday-Saturday at 12:30 and 2:30 pm and on Sundays at 3:30 pm.


  1. My mom took me to the last automat before it closed - I thought it was so cool. I will definitely be going to this exhibition.

    1. Lucky you! Definitely take the free guided tour. They share really interesting tidbits.