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Lunch Break! = History Break!

NYC History

During a lunch break in NYC, the possibilities are endless. One could go for a leisurely stroll, sit in a park and read a book or snooze under the desk, George-Costanza-style. But when a tour guide thirsty for knowledge gets cut from the job an hour early, it’s more than your basic break. Courtesy of my fav Deal of the Day site, I hunted down free Schnitzel at Park Avenue and 26th street. The Shnitzel and Things food truck was handing out bite-sized portions of chicken shnitzel and german potato salad. Dankeshone! Taking a seat under the statue President Chester Alan Arthur in the Northeast corner of Madison Square Park, I devoured my free treat.

“Chet Arthur, President of the United States?” said his friends. “Good God!”

The history of C.A. Arthur is important to NYC  not just because he studied law here as an abolitionist in the 1850s, or because he served as customs collector of the Port of New York, but because he was sworn into the Presidency just five blocks from where his statue stands. After James Garfield was shot, his assassin, Charles Guiteau calmly stated “I am a Stalwart, and Arthur is now President of the United States!” Arthur was sworn in shortly at his home on the corner of Lexington Avenue and 28th street.

Appellate Court Building. Check out that marble! Hubba hubba!

My next stop was the Appellate Court of New York at Mad & 25, which, according to the Landmark Preservation Commission, is an interior landmarked building – not as common in NYC as you’d expect. The architect, James Lord Brown, spent over one-third of the $600,000 budget on decorations – a ton of money in 1902. Inside you’ll find a bronze and glass chandelier, Siena marble, a stained-glass dome set into a gilded coffered ceiling and law-themed murals abounding. The exterior’s adorned with Corinthian columns and marble sculptures by Daniel Chester French. You may find one sculpture missing though; in the 1950’s, Muslim countries asked that the statue of Mohamed be taken down.

Lest you believe that the neighborhood’s institutions are exclusively for the upper crust, I bring the story of the Hurricane Club, courtesy of a historical plaque on Park and 26, where the new Tiki Bar of the same name stands. In the mid-19th century, Captain Drake “Goldbelly” Stillman and his first mate, Delilah “Little Rose” Netherlander were sailing on The Junebug from the South Pacific to the US. Their cargo included tons of exotic South Pacific food, hundreds of cases of wine courtesy of a royal French depository, and a fair share of gold bouillon.

Suddenly, without warning, they were struck by a hurricane and crash-landed on the island of Lokoko. Warily guarding their prized cargo, the crew was approached by natives and brought before the court of King Pappu and Queen Ludellah. Goldbelly and Little Rose would have been executed, if it weren’t for the tons of food and drink which had survived the storm. A grand feast took place and the King ordered a new ship built, dubbed The Junebug II. Golbelly and Little Rose made it to New York and every year, in celebration of their survival, a feast called “The Hurricane Club” was thrown in King Lokoko’s honor.

Eisenberg’s – since 1929. Stick with the tongue and pastrami.

A glance at the currentmenu proved enticing but a bit out of my price range for Wednesday lunch, so I moved on. Where did I end up? A sandwich shop, of course! Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop, since 1929, on Fifth and 22nd. This Jewish greasy-spoon diner lives immediately across from the Flatiron building and is know for their tongue and pastrami as well as their tuna salad sandwiches. My sandwich sources advised that I get the tuna melt; what resulted was, unfortunately, one of my biggest disappointments in my citywide sandwich crusade. Not only was the tuna fishy and bland, but the American cheese wasn’t even melted and the sandwich went cold despite a hot minute under the press. Chalk it up to irony that a jam-packed lunch break ended in an extremely unsatisfying sandwich experience. Sometimes you have to be fed by the history.

By Jonah Levy

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