The first Horn & Hardart automat opened in New York City in 1912. Over the next decades, 40 automats popped up in the city.
One of them was at 2710 Broadway, between 103rd and 104th Streets, seen here in a 1942 photo.
Everyone who remembers these glass and chrome egalitarian eateries, with their walls of food compartments, recalls them with huge affection. Automats were the “Maxim’s of the disenfranchised,” said playwright Neil Simon.
Drop a nickel or two into the slot, and the compartment door opened, dispensing the object of your desire—like an egg salad sandwich, macaroni, baked beans, lemon meringue pie, or just black coffee.
Tables and chairs in the center of the tile room offered a place to sit and eat into the night. Behind the walls, employees restocked the compartment for the next hungry patron.
The last automat hung in there until 1991. But the era of the automat had started to end in the 1950s and 1960s, thanks to the rise of fast food.
The one at Broadway and 103rd Street (above in 1980) stuck around until 1955, according to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Since then, 2710 Broadway has hosted a variety of businesses, like a supermarket and a Rite-Aid (above photo, 2015). It’s now a CityMD.
But much of the facade hasn’t changed. It’s easy to visualize all the New Yorkers of decades past who nursed cups of coffee and slices of pie there, between auditions or jobs or on bad dates, or killing time, before continuing on their way.
A big thumbs up to the History Author Show for sharing these images and showing love for the city’s most iconic restaurant.
The automat made it into several movies shot in New York over the years. Watch Jean Arthur in 1931’s Easy Living, or Doris Day and Audrey Meadows in That Touch of Mink from 1962.
[Top photo: NYPL; Second photo: Landmarks Preservation Commission report]