Photo and text submitted by Marcia Bricker Halperin
Don’t get me wrong – the Lunch Trucks serve great food, but I long for the days when you could find a midtown Cafeteria to while away the hours. A map in the exhibit of the Bryant Park area shows no less than 2 huge cafeterias, the Governor and the 42nd Street Cafeteria that stretched through a city block.
Marcia’s right; cafeterias used to be hugely popular. Their rise began in 1898 when the Childs brothers opened Childs’ Lunch Room, New York’s first self-service restaurant outfitted with trays and a tray line. The concept took root in cities all over the country, and by 1920, nearly a thousand cafeterias made New York their home. But after World War II, it became too expensive to keep operations cheap and spotless, and many cafeteria frequenters turned to upscale locations like Schrafft’s and Chock Full o’ Nuts.
Curious question comes to mind, remember the “Automats”, the cafeterias of the future, which vanished into obscurity just as quickly? The concept of “the 3rd place”, that respite on the edge of between home and work, or a place that is solely yours for the moment of pause in the busy daily life. Today, so many people want a moment to relax and forget about the real world, but all too quickly the 3rd place needs to be replaced, shops become so popular or trendy that they lose the flavor that made them once special. I lament, the point is that in our search for the perfect place, we forget the simple pleasures of life, and often look back into the past, looking for the good times gone by.
As I remember, NY is the place where all things are possible, a city of dreams and dreamers. I had spent numerous times at the NYPL, one of my first 3rd places, and looking back with misty eyed fondness of yesterday, it always will be.
In short, I Love NY.
Joseph Timmons, Misplaced New Yorker
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