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Time for lunch? N.Y. exhibit chews over midday meal
NEW YORK |
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Let's do lunch. Whether it is a three-martini, working or about ladies who lunch, a new exhibit at the New York Public Library chews over the city's history with the midday meal.
"Lunch Hour NYC," which opens on Friday and runs through February 17, taps the library's extensive collection and features books, vintage menus, historic photographs and memorabilia, all pegged to the ritual of lunch.
A reconstructed wall of Automat machines, the mid-20th century urban innovation designed to serve office workers seeking a quick, economical lunch while bypassing the need for a waitress, is among the highlights of the show.
"People loved them, because they didn't have to leave a tip," said librarian Rebecca Federman, the exhibit's co-curator, referring not only to Automats but forerunners such as Child's cafeterias, which date to 1898 and were immortalized in the Rodgers and Hart song, "I'll Take Manhattan."
Federman said the Automats' spread was followed by 1950s-era cafeterias and coffee shops that flourished in midtown Manhattan near the library's main branch.
The trends were the inspiration for the show, which grew out of Federman and co-curator and culinary historian Laura Shapiro's idea of exploring the food history of New York.
HUGE MEAL, QUICK SANDWICH
"As we researched, the thing that kept coming up over and over was this idea of lunch -- people going to work who don't have time to go home, and need to find places to eat during the day," said Federman.
It was originally a huge meal but as people began to live further away from their workplaces, there was an emphasis on time, efficiency and finances.
"If you want to explore the place where food, people and New York City come together, it has to be lunch," said Shapiro.
The exhibition is divided into four sections -- quick lunch, lunch at home, charitable lunch and power lunch. It also explores the city's school lunch program, which began in 1908 as a charitable service, the city's affinity for street foods such as pretzels and hot dogs, and the move towards healthier food such as salad.
Economics and trends have influenced the tradition of lunch in the city. The soda fountain turned into a place for a quick cheap lunch during Prohibition and the Depression.
Federman explained that during the 1960s, consultants hired by the Automats discovered younger people were willing to spend more on lunch. In the late 1960s many Automats closed.
"But from 1898 to the 1970s, New York was flooded with cafeterias and their ilk. You don't see that anymore," she added.
Menus from restaurants including Schrafft's and Delmonico's, instruction manuals for workers at the Horn & Hardart Automat and photographs by Lewis Hine, Berenice Abbott and others are all on display.
Listening stations features clips from films, and actress Marlo Thomas can be seen in her 1960s hit television show, "That Girl," in which she plays a struggling actress, making tomato soup at the Automat with free hot water and ketchup.
Federman said the exhibit also helps debunk the image that everyone had an hour for lunch. An illustration from 1888 entitled "The Downtown Lunchroom in New York," depicts a delivery boy bringing soup to an office worker who presumably is unable to leave his desk.
"It was rare that people ever took a full hour," Federman said. "Now, with the power lunch that whole idea of the clock just goes away." (Reporting by Chris Michaud; Editing by Patricia Reaney, Phil Berlowitz)
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