When the city dined at the Times Square Automat

“You should have seen this Automat,” reminisced the elderly man who sold me this postcard. “You could sit for hours with a cup of coffee and look out onto Times Square through those huge picture windows.”

It must have been something. At their peak of popularity, New York had at least 50 Automats, filled with little slots containing sandwiches, mac and cheese, pie, and other foods, each to be had for just a coin or two. The one below was at Broadway between 46th and 47th Streets.


William Grimes sums up the appeal of the Automat in his entertaining 2009 book Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York.

“As the Automat worked itself into the fabric of the city, it came to represent a particular kind of American experience,” writes Grimes. “It was ostentatiously democratic, for one thing. Lacking the gatekeepers associated with traditional restaurants, it attracted diners from every social level.”

“A bit of verse in the Sun, printed in the Depression year of 1933, caught the spirit precisely:

‘Said the technocrat
To the Plutocrat
To the autocrat
And the Democrat—
Let’s all go eat at the Automat!'”

Here’s a similar postcard, and a memory from Patti Smith, about getting hit on by Allen Ginsberg at a downtown Automat in the 1970s.

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17 Responses to “When the city dined at the Times Square Automat”

  1. onyxpnina Says:

    We ate there when we returned to this country and spent several days in a Times Square hotel.

    It’s where I developed the distaste for chicken pot pie.

  2. quotidianhudsonriver Says:

    Reblogged this on The Quotidian Hudson and commented:
    I miss the automats…

  3. Robert R Says:

    Another fascinating book is “The Automat” by Lorraine B. Diehl and Marianne Hardart (great-granddaughter of Automat co-founder Frank Hardart.) Filled with history, reminiscences and photos, it also contains the original recipes for many Automat favorites, such as Baked Beans, Macaroni and Cheese, Chicken Potpie and Rice Pudding. A treasure!

  4. carolegill Says:

    they were amazing places!
    I still remember how good the hot chocolate was!

  5. purpleborough Says:

    I never knew about the Automats…Very interesting.

  6. chas Says:

    Lots of places to read about these gems…they were very popular well into the 60’s and possibly a few left around the early 70’s..from the food service kings Horn and Hardart…

  7. JBV Says:

    The NYPL had a fabulous exhibit, Lunch Hour NYC, with the Automat as a feature:


    The library also had handouts of Horn & Hardart recipes that were more accurate than those in the books about NY food or the Automat. They’re available at various websites – just be sure they’re attributed to NYPL. I make the mac and cheese or the baked beans any time that I’m cold, hungry, and nostalgic.

  8. WHAMMO! Says:

    The last on in New York lasted into the 90s:


  9. Lady G. Says:

    I wish I could have dined at an automat. So cool.

  10. Keith Goldstein Says:

    I have fond childhood memories eating at the Horn and Hardarts with my family. The last one I ate in was the one on 34th Street and 8th Avenue sometime in the ’70s.

  11. Biff Says:

    I think somebody wrote a song about this, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concerto_for_Horn_and_Hardart . . .

  12. Charles Rothbart Says:

    You previously posted a picture of what I assume is the same Automat here: https://ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/a-photographer-captures-times-square-in-color/

  13. A pool hall and automat share space on 14th Street | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] is the automat—actually the 50 or so Horn & Hardart automats that used to exist all over the city. The fast food of their era, they […]

  14. udreamofjeanie Says:

    My Dad took me here once! Many years later when I was hungry you could get very inexpensive meals… & yes! A few times I bought two pieces of white bread & free butter & catsup & called it dinner!!

  15. Beauty and humanity in a Third Avenue El film | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] at night, a young couple boards. Amid glimpses of a Horn and Hardart Automat sign and a movie marquee, the male half of  the couple picks up and pockets the […]

  16. The short life of a 1960s East Village rock venue | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] the audience for one of their shows was future star Patti Smith; Robert Mapplethorpe had worked there and gave her a free pass. She recounted the experience in her […]

  17. The Splendour Of Fear – DiscontinuedNotes Says:

    […] The story is sparsely told as we quickly move from one dingy, low-rent location to another, occasionally stopping in a comparatively high-class restaurant. Our narrator is intelligent and does not over-elaborate, there is little description other than of the tired, haunted faces and damaged bodies. The only odd solecism in the text is a reference to a “marquis” at the start of chapter 8, which should be a “marquee”, since it “said: Girls! Girls! Girls! Live Revue Inside!”, although I suppose the alternative works as well. If that is a jokey allusion to De Sade then it stands alone. We should notice at the start that one of the lawyer’s offices Josephine passes on her way to meet the Nelsons bears a list of names that includes “Thompson, Burroughs” which could be a nod to Jim Thompson and William Burroughs. Josephine uses the expression “walk on the wild side”, which in her world is not yet the title of a novel (it was published in 1956), nor yet a famous song, but there is no sign of how it comes to her. This book is obviously informed by a lot of research, all presumably from literary sources since none of the names in the Acknowledgements at the end are other than in the publishing world. Any real-life counterparts of Josephine would be dead and never-remembered before Sara could interview them for authentic period detail. The Automat diner in Times Square is part of the city folklore. […]

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