Lunch Time!

Walker Evans (1903–1975), Lunchroom Buddies, New York City, 1931 (printed 1974) (50.1981.k)

This glass plate negative was made on Second Avenue in Manhattan.

Inscription on negative envelope: ‘LUNCHROOM BUDDIES [underlined] // New York about [crossed out] 1933? // Glass neg. 6 1/2 x 8 1/2″ // pub. Hound & Horn vol. VI no. 3 // (Apr. June, 1933).’ Metropolitan Museum

Lee Sievan (1907-1990), Free Manicure with Your Lunch, New York, 1940s (36.1990)

If you were in Midtown Manhattan in 1940 and wanted a cuppa tea and wanted to have your fortune told, there were a boatload of options. You could have gone to the Gypsy Cauldron Tea Room (156 W 44th St.), Gypsy Restaurant Tea Room (432 7th Ave.), Gypsy Sandwich Shop (740 Lexington Ave.), Gypsy Tea Shoppe (2390 Broadway), Gypsy Tent Tea Room (559 5th Ave.), or the Gypsy Wagon Tea Room. Or, there were three Gypsy Tea Kettles (503 5th Ave., 431 5th Ave., 200 West 50th St.). Near Union Square was Gypsy Den Tea Room (106 East 14th St.). In the Village was Babita’s Gypsy Tea Room (55 Greenwich Ave.). If you were terrific at tasseography and could read the tea leaves (or coffee grounds) correctly then you would have known that one of the Gypsy Tea Kettles would survive as a business for over 60 years.

In the spring of 1930, on Fifth Avenue, across from the New York Public Library, the first Gypsy Tea Kettle opened:

It began as a spot for women to pause from a day of shopping, buy a sandwich and a cup of tea, and have their tea leaves read. In the intervening decades, social history, economics and the mercurial vagaries of popular taste have reshaped the basic premise to the point that, in defiance of its name, it no longer employs Gypsies or offers tea-leaf readings, having long since replaced them with tarot cards. The result is a peculiarly New York hybrid of fortune-telling boutique, refuge from the cold, just-for-a-lark lunchtime stop and psychoanalytic institute.
Adam Green, New York Times, “From Tea Leaves to Tarot Cards,” January 1, 1993, p.C1

The tea leaf readings were offered for free because it was illegal to tell fortunes for money. The postwar years were the most successful for the Gypsy Tea Kettle; telling fortunes for money was now legal. By 1975 readers at the Gypsy Tea Kettle were using playing cards to tell fortunes for $1.50, not including tip, and offering free tea readings from a 60-cent cup of tea. Sandwiches and cookies were also available. Curious customers would have their fortunes told in green vinyl booths. The owner of the Gypsy Tea Kettle for over forty years did not believe in fortune telling or readings and never had one. (Leslie Maitland, The New York Times, January 31, 1975.) Eventually the Gypsy Tea Kettle abandoned reading tea leaves and started reading playing cards and tarot cards. And they didn’t stop for over sixty years.

You don’t need a fortune teller to predict: if it’s not lunchtime now, it will be soon, and it’s probably lunchtime somewhere. Are you receiving a free manicure and/or free tea cup reading (25 cents is worth about $3 or $4 today) with your lunch? What’s your lunch today?

It’s lunchtime!

Free(?) newspaper reading with your lunch:
The New York Times, “For Those Who Dare Seek the Future, No Lack of Soothsayers“, Leslie Maitland, January 1, 1975
The New York Times, “Psychics’ Clients In Business Suits“, Sherry Sontag, July 14, 1985,
The New York Times, “From Tea Leaves to Tarot Cards“, Adam Green, January 1, 1993,
The New York Times, “The Storefront Psychic: A Peek Inside“, Erin St. John Kelly, May 14, 1995

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2 Responses to Lunch Time!

  1. crea2010 says:

    Great post thank you!

  2. Christopher George says:

    Thank you for reading, writing, etc.

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