Wednesday, April 19, 2006


The Staff Cafeteria, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

One can dine very well at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (and, dare I say it, providing a feast for the body as well as for the intellect), although the Café Sabarsky at the Neue Galerie is probably the best museum dining in town. Nevertheless, the Met impresses with dining options that rival the breadth of its collections. For the fancy, there is the Trustee’s Dining Room (to which the great unwashed is not admitted; they can eat in the subterranean Cafeteria). The American Wing Café and the Petrie Court both have lovely views Central Park, while drinks are served on the balcony bar on Friday and Saturday nights. I just wish the drinks were as good as the location.

The staff, too, gets its very own dining room. In retrospect, I realize how very lucky I was—I just didn’t appreciate the staff cafeteria for its glories when I was a Met employee. The staff cafeteria feeds its underpaid staff and not-at-all paid volunteers for a very reasonable price, with options—let me say it again—that rival the breadth of its collections.

Both the public and staff cafeterias are relegated to windowless spaces underground, and the food is mostly the same (although I have a theory that stale baked goods are brought over from the public cafeteria to be sold to the staff). In fact, the casual visitor will never see a lot of the Met, even cursory visits to each gallery would take far more time than the average tourist is willing to spend, but because of the vast, hidden infrastructure supporting the institution. Tunnels connect the various wings of the buildings, several stories descend to house one of the best art history libraries in the world, and the conservation labs have a very charming balcony.

The staff caf’ shines in food quality and price (especially for the Upper East Side), but its décor and table settings are (literally, considering the location) subpar. On the walls are (poor) reproductions of paintings featuring scenes of eating and drinking; one wonders why the Met couldn’t spare some decent, real art to decorate the walls for its employees. I haven’t been back in a while, but in spring 2005, unfunctional napkin dispensers appeared, to dispense napkins not worthy of Moscow in the 1930s. The plasticware is some of the worst I've encountered. Snap! Snap! Snap! No, that is not the sound of Rice Krispie’s, popping and crackling, but the sound of the end of my fork flinging across the table. I am not strongest person, but I continually broke the forks while trying to eat. I’ve never even done that at KFC.

The peanut butter cookies, however, absolve the Museum of all of its sins against design and functionality. And for those, at least, you don’t need any tableware at all.

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