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NYPL Exhibitions

Lunch Hour NYC

“Every thing is done differently in New York from anywhere else—but in eating the difference is more striking than in any other branch of human economy.”

—George Foster, New York in Slices, 1849

The clamor and chaos of lunch hour in New York has been a defining feature of the city for some 150 years. Visitors, newly arrived immigrants, and even longtime New Yorkers are struck by the crowds, the rush, and the dizzying range of foods on offer. Of the three meals that mark the American day, lunch is the one that acquired its modern identity here on the streets of New York.

Colonial American mealtimes were originally based on English rural life, with a main meal known as “dinner” in the middle of the day. The word “lunch” referred to a snack that might be eaten at any time of the day or night, even on the run. But during the 19th century, under the pressures of industrialization, this meal pattern began to change. Nowhere was the change more dramatic than in New York, the burgeoning center for trade, manufacturing, and finance. Employees were given a fixed time for their midday meal, often a half hour or less. So, dinner was pushed to the end of the day, and lunch settled into a scheduled place on the clock between the hours of twelve and two.

Lunch Hour NYC looks back at more than a century of New York lunches, when the city’s early power brokers invented what was yet to be called “power lunch,” local charities established a 3-cent school lunch, and visitors with guidebooks thronged Times Square to eat lunch at the Automat. Drawing on materials from throughout the Library, the exhibition explores the ways in which New York City—work-obsessed, time-obsessed, and in love with ingenious new ways to make money—reinvented lunch in its own image.

Feed Your Mind – and Your Stomach

To celebrate Lunch Hour NYC, the NYPL is partnering with the New York City Food Truck Association and Bryant Park to bring food trucks to the library this fall.

One truck will park on the Bryant Park plaza at 40th Street and Fifth Avenue, selling lunch from 11am - 3pm. We will also have dessert trucks from 4 - 7pm.

The schedule (as of January 14th) is as follows:

Monday: Mexicue
Tuesday: Milk Truck
Wednesday: Nuchas 
Thursday: Chinese Mirch
Friday: Souvlaki


Tuesday: Treats Truck
Friday: Coolhaus

Visit us on Twitter for any up-to-the-minute schedule changes or news: @bryantparknyc@nypl, @lunchhournyc, and @nycfoodtruck.

A portion of sales will go towards Bryant Park – which manages and maintains the plaza – and The New York Public Library.

Library patrons can also enjoy snacks and sandwiches at the 'wichcraft café, located on the first floor of the Schwarzman Building.

In honor of the exhibition, the 'wichcraft location will be selling peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for $3 during the run of Lunch Hour NYC.

Follow Us!

Lunch Hour NYC has its own Tumblr and Twitter accounts. Follow them for special content relating to the exhibition.

Audio Podcast

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Hear audio describer Danielle Linzer, manager of Access and Community Programs at the Whitney Museum, and co-curator of Lunch Hour NYC Rebecca Federman, discuss some of the exhibit highlights, including: the concept and transformation of lunch in NYC over the last 150 years; the evolution of street vendors from oysters to hot dogs; delivery of take-out pizza and Chinese food via bicycle; and the fondly-remembered Automat. The podcast, 23:51 in length, is written and narrated by Danielle Linzer, introduced and produced by Lars Hoel, and was conceived by Fotis Flevotomos and Brigid Cahalan. Hear the podcast now.

View the Trailer

Lunch Hour NYC Events

Lunch Hour NYC tells the story of the clamor and chaos of lunchtime in New York, including the creation of school lunch and the “quick lunch” before the invention of modern-day fast food. In conjunction with Lunch Hour NYC, the Library is hosting a series of programs about food and cooking, beginning with a teen cooking class this summer:

From Garden to Plate to Create a Cookbook

In conjunction with the Lunch Hour NYC exhibition the library is offering a series of programs.

See the complete listing of programs.

Visit the Exhibition

Friday, June 22, 2012 through Sunday, February 17, 2013

New York Public Library

Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Gottesman Exhibition Hall (Click for hours, map and directions)


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