The New York Public Library opens “Lunch Hour NYC”

Find out how New York City influenced the midday meal in this exhibit at the New York Public Library.

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  • Photograph: Courtesy the New York Public Library

    Automat spout from "Lunch Hour NYC" at the New York Public Library

  • Photograph: Courtesy the New York Public Library

    Dictionary entry from "Lunch Hour NYC" at the New York Public Library

  • Photograph: Courtesy the New York Public Library

    Automat photo from "Lunch Hour NYC" at the New York Public Library

  • Photograph: Matt Flynn

    Original Winnie-the-Pooh stuffed toys from the New York Public Library

  • Sardi’s

Photograph: Courtesy the New York Public Library

Automat spout from "Lunch Hour NYC" at the New York Public Library

Through Feb 17, 2013New York Public Library, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Fifth Ave at 42nd Sts (917-275-6975, nypl.org). Mon, Thu, Fri, Sat 10am–6pm; Tue, Wed 10am–8pm; Sun 1–5pm. Free.


The exhibit “Lunch Hour NYC” at the New York Public Library traces how manufacturing in New York City influenced the development of lunch. The library has searched its collection of menus, historical dictionaries and archives to find the culinary innovations and trends created around the meal.


RECOMMENDED: Full summer museum exhibit guide


Highlights

Noah Webster’s personal dictionary

Prior to the 19th century, lunch—according to Samuel Johnson in his 1755 Dictionary of the English Language—was a snack you could carry in your hand and eat any time of the day. But the Industrial Revolution changed that: As workers left rural farms to fuel city factories, the big family gathering was moved to the evening, and the noontime ritual was born. This exhibit examines New York’s role in that shift, from the 1800s to the present. Among the artifacts on view are historic documents related to the midday meal, including Noah Webster’s personal dictionary from 1841. In it, he annotated the entry for the word lunch, defining it as something eaten between breakfast and dinner.

Automat spout

In 1912, restaurateurs Joe Horn and Frank Hardart opened the first of NYC’s Automats, efficient eateries filled with self-service machines vending items like burgers and coffee (which cost only a nickel). “Frank Hardart had been to New Orleans, where he had tasted great coffee,” explains curator Laura Shapiro. “When he went into the restaurant business, he wanted [it] at the center of his business.” The library will display the java recipe, along with a spout based on the design used in the original Automats.

Yoshino-Ya menu

One of the library’s most surprising discoveries was a 1932 menu from a Japanese restaurant on West 47th Street that served sushi. “Sources that tell you about the development of sushi in America date it to Los Angeles in the 1960s, so this predates [that] dramatically,” says Shapiro. “We just jumped up and down when we found it.” The eatery also catered to American tastes: Among the dishes listed on the menu, which was printed in both Japanese and English, is celery with olives.


Also check out

One of the most popular things to see at the Stephen A. Schwarzman building is the “Winnie-the-Pooh and Friends” display in the Children’s Center. These toys—Kanga, Roo, Tigger and the honey-loving bear himself—are the original stuffed animals that author A.A. Milne gave to his son, Christopher Robin Milne, in 1921. Three years later, the critters began appearing in Milne’s classic books. The publisher E.P. Dutton donated the set to the library in 1987.


Go here afterward

Sardi’s

  • Price band: 4/4

Check out the colorful caricatures of famous entertainers such as Lucille Ball, Humphrey Bogart and Matthew Broderick that line the walls at Sardi’s. The Theater District staple still serves an old-fashioned business lunch, with heavy items like cannelloni au gratin ($21). You might just see one of the Great White Way’s brightest stars at the next banquette. • 212-221-8440, sardis.com

  1. 234 W 44th St, (between Broadway and Eighth Ave), 10036
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