What Seinfeld Ate for Lunch

Installation view of the pie section of the historic Automat

Installation view of the pie section of the historic Automat

If you’re a New Yorker, you eat the same stuff – Chinese take out, sushi, hero sandwiches, and the occasional power lunch. So, where did it come from? How long have these New York traditions been going on? Did you know that take-out began in 1976?

Get to see the New York Public Library’s walk-through of culinary history at Lunch Hour NYC. As soon as you enter, you see a reproduction of the oyster carts that fed millions of working New Yorkers in the early 1800s, when these small bites were so plentiful in our waters that entrepreneurs made fortunes shipping them to Paris and London.

Recipes for 1960s homemakers

Installation view of homemaker recipes

You’ll also see tribute paid to the ubiquitous Chinese take-out bike, learn that pretzels have been sold on street corners for 150 years, and meet the creator of the stainless steel hot dog cart, Ed Beller. Listen to his story yourself.

Of course, the genuine star of the show is the Automat wall. You not only get a glimpse of the original doors, but you can go around behind the scenes and see where workers put in the fresh creamed spinach, baked beans, beef with burgundy sauce, and pie. People tend to linger in this section of the show, watching videos of Marlo Thomas in That Girl, a career girl without a lot of cash eyeing the yummier selections chosen by more successful types – a theme that’s also echoed in the clips from other movies, too.

Nostalgia lovers will be delighted to see a vintage Frigidere, a wall full of lunch boxes, and an array of 1950s and 1960s homemaker recipe booklets, and to learn that dieting crazes go back for decades. (Favorite: the article “Nice People Don’t Eat” from a 1941 Ladies Home Journal.) There’s also a 1940s Betty Crocker book with open to an article that any New Yorker would find comforting:  “Meals at Odd Hours.” Watch the NYPL’s lively video promo:

Get a close-up look with these photos on Flickr.

Installation view of Alex Gard’s portraits at Sardi’s – Lorenz Hart, Dorothy Kilgallen, Al Capp, and John McClain. Collection: NYPL

Installation view of Alex Gard’s portraits at Sardi’s – Lorenz Hart, Dorothy Kilgallen, Al Capp, and John McClain. Collection: NYPL

NYPL has a terrific Automat-themed website, filled with revelations. Go read about how cafeterias began in 1898 at 130 Broadway, how peanut butter began in 1900, how Alex Gard did all those portraits at Sardi’s in exchange for dinners on a regular basis, and how NYPL needs volunteers to transcribe its collection of historic menus.  (Go sign up.)

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2 thoughts on “What Seinfeld Ate for Lunch

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