A Down-Town Lunch-Room, 1888


A Down-Town Lunch-Room, drawn by T. de Thulstrup, Harper's Weekly, 1888

On Wall Street in the 1880s, just as today, lunch was often a rushed meal eaten quickly at a nearby fast food restaurant.  At 12:30 p.m., a cry of “To lunch, to lunch!” would go up on the NYSE trading floor and the brokers headed off for ten minutes of sustenance.  According to the news article accompanying this engraving of a Lower Manhattan lunch spot, hyper-efficient meat carvers and waiters could feed over 3,000 people between the hours of 12 and 2.


When the NYSE opened its new building in 1903, a significant feature was the Stock Exchange Luncheon Club’s beautiful club rooms on the 7th floor. 

Stock Exchange Luncheon Club, 1903Founded in 1898, the Luncheon Club was a private dining club for NYSE members who could have a meal in the large elegant dining room, or have lunch delivered to their workstation on the trading floor.  The Luncheon Club provided a convenient alternative to the nearby lunch counters, buffets and cafeterias in the Wall Street neighborhood.  Alas, the Stock Exchange Luncheon Club folded in 2006, but its story was chronicled by Arthur D. Cashin, Jr. in A View of Wall Street from the Seventh Floor, published in 1999 (out-of-print but available on Amazon).


Who would have guessed that lunch occupies such an important place in the social history of our city?  Well, the New York Public Library, for one.  You have until February 17 to check out the Library’s comprehensive and fascinating exhibition, “Lunch Hour NYC,” at the main library on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street. The exhibition covers the history of lunch – from oyster bars and automats, to school lunches and hot dog carts, to Delmonico’s and the Power Lunch.  Drawing on the Library’s rich collections of books, prints and photographs – and its collection of 45,000 restaurant menus – the exhibition illuminates how our mundane midday meal has shaped our city and society.