Monday, July 30, 2012

Grabbing lunch

Renoir still life
Whether you explore it while eating at your desk or want to save it for later, here's a link to a wonderful New York Public Library online exhibition about the history of lunchtime in the city. Did you know that it wasn't until 1976 that a Chinese restaurant (Empire Szechuan Gourmet, at Broadway and 97th Street) began leaving menus at buildings offering free delivery? (By the number of signs prohibiting such activity, I think that's now regarded as more of curse than a blessing!)
Although the last automat closed in 1991, the Smithsonian in Washington DC has a 35-foot section of one on display. In the early 1930s, New York boasted 41 automats.
“The Automat was one of the wonders of New York. When Joe Horn and Frank Hardart opened their magnificent flagship on July 2, 1912—a two-story facade of stained glass, marble floors, and ornate carved ceilings, right in the middle of Times Square—the city was instantly captivated. Hungry? Drop a nickel in a slot, open the door to your chosen compartment, and pull your dish right out — a modern miracle! Sandwiches, hot dishes, and desserts were all freshly made, and the coffee was said to be the best in New York. By the 1940s there were Automat restaurants all over the city. Children and tourists adored them, office workers depended on them, retirees gathered in them, and New Yorkers with nothing to spend on lunch stirred free ketchup into hot water and called it soup.”
At the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company’s main office on Madison Avenue, “men and women ate in separate lunchrooms, and everyone had an assigned seat so that waitresses could quickly deliver the right meal to each person. The clerks were allowed 35 minutes for lunch, and the meal was free.”  Sounds very Silicon Valley!
One of the 45,000 menus in the collection. Quite the rate of inflation!
We all know it's good to plan ahead so you don't get caught perpetually eating pizza for lunch. For help with healthy food choices and recipes to build on them, look no further than this page.


  1. I remember eating at Empire Szechuan on W 97th in the early 80s, and by then the menus were omnipresent. Wonder if the first ones from 1976 are now collectors' items ? Off to eBay to find out...

  2. I guess you could date them by the prices!

  3. I love the link you posted to Lunch Hour NYC, I was particularly fascinated by the story I read about Father Divine,he described himself as GOD and was considered to be a charlatan by many, but its still pretty cool what he did with the Peace Mission Movement, a co-op of no cost to low cost restaurants, hotels, and stores, which was probably a big help to the many that lost nearly everything during The Great Depression.

    1. Absolutely ... & thanks for sharing for people (like me) who didn't read everything!

  4. Does anyone know what "force, malta vita, and power" are, and how they go with milk?

  5. They sound like cereals, so one can be force-fed and power-hungry!