A new exhibit at the New York Public Library tells the history of lunch in the Big Apple. Edible Magazine’s Rachel Wharton filed the following report.
The New York Public Library on 42nd Street is now offering lunch alongside its books, in a way. Until February 17, the library is hosting a free exhibit called "Lunch Hour, NYC." Featuring cookbooks, old menus, videos, letters and other culinary oddities from its collection, the pop-up museum is meant to showcase how we as a city have eaten throughout the centuries.
The exhibit focuses on lunch, according to Rebecca Federman, the library's culinary librarian, because of its public nature and its unique history in Manhattan.
"Lunch is a really fascinating meal, because of its association with work, and money and time. These kinds of things that are very prevalent in New York City," says Federman.
Beyond a section on the genesis of the "power lunch," there are highlights from the library's collection of 45,000 city menus, a 1960s hot dog cart, metal lunch boxes, doodles from the walls of Sardi's, immigrant street foods, soda fountain slang and a working wall from an old Horn & Hardart Automat from the 1940s.
One of Federman's favorites is an old chart listing city lunch counters.
"There's a real estate atlas from our maps division on the wall between the Automat section and the soda fountain section. And its an atlas of Midtown Manhattan from about 1955 and it's very detailed as to where every single lunch place and store was in like a 10-block radius," says Federman. "So you really see how the city has changed and where people would have been eating lunch in Midtown Manhattan."
Yet not surprisingly, one of the oldest and most valuable pieces in the exhibit is an actual book.
"We really wanted to start of the exhibition exploring what the meaning of lunch is or has been historically, so we have Samuel Johnson's dictionary from 1755 with his definition of lunch, which is 'as much food as one's hand can hold,'" says Federman.
Visitors don't even need a library card.