When everyone in New York ate at the Automat

The tables were clean, the machines that dispensed coffee, sandwiches, pie, and other items always in order, and the food actually tasty—at least, that’s what New Yorkers who had the opportunity to eat at a Horn & Hardart Automat always say.

The Automat was a welcoming place for newcomers to New York City as well as those who didn’t have much more than loose change to buy their meals. At their peak the city had at least 50 Automats. The spirit of the Automat was a democratic one, according to this rhyme from a 1933 Sun article:

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

If only we all could still…the last one closed up shop in Manhattan in 1991.

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45 Responses to “When everyone in New York ate at the Automat”

  1. boxwoodbooks Says:

    The technology of the dispensers was magical. The efficiency of service had been unknown. Bravo the Automat! RIP.

  2. beth Says:

    I would have loved to eat there

    • Rick Smith Says:

      I have very fond memories of growing up in NYC and the Automats. Such fun when you are a little kid. Nothing like it in Ann Arbor.

    • erictb Says:

      A new company is trying to restart it, and opened a new one in Jersey City (the entrance to Pavonia/Newport mall). You order first, and then pick up through the glass door.

      • ephemeralnewyork Says:

        I think I recall an automat-type restart on St. Marks Place several years back…which failed.

      • erictb Says:

        That one I remembered hearing about, but I had missed it.

      • Ginger Says:

        The St. Marks Place automat was called “Bamn!”, and had the best mac ‘n cheese croquettes shaped like egg rolls! My beau worked on the block at the time and I would pick him up late. They had bright pink neon decor and it only took a handful of quarters for the eats. Sometime the staff peeked at me through the hole after I removed my selection. We still talk about it today, since it was our only experience with an automat!

  3. Ty Says:

    When I was about 5 my grandfather took me to the automat and held me up so I could put the coins in the slot for a slice of pumpkin pie. When I looked through the little cubby hole a man in white with a paper hat waved at me from inside. I saw into another dimension of spacetime where they make pumpkin pie and never forgot it.

  4. KFBuchsbaum Says:

    It would be a perfect dining alternative in these crazy times of social distancing . . .

  5. michael porrazzo Says:

    There was an automat on 14th street. When it closed, my father moved our liquor store from 107 E. 14th St. into the automat. Beautiful marble throughout and a wonderful tiled basement. There was also a balcony level with a wonderful staircase leading up. As a child, it was always a treat to eat at the automat and use the magical sandwich/food dispensers. A different era. Luchow’s across the street for those with more $$.

    • Mykola Mick Dementiuk Says:

      I remember that 14 St Automat, used to eat there and spend my days in Julian’s pool parlor, a few doors down. What a world of difference those memories mean!

      • ephemeralnewyork Says:

        I’ve seen pictures of the interior of that Automat on East 14th Street, beautiful!

  6. greg chown Says:

    My mother took me to NYC in 1970 when I was 10. I don’t know the hotel but it was close to Times Square. She’d been there in the 50’s and wasn’t prepared for how rough it was, I didn’t know any better.
    We went to the Automat a few times. There’s a 60’s film with Cary Grant and Doris Day that has some good scenes in the Automat.
    That Touch of Mink.

  7. greg chown Says:

    One more thing.
    I was doing some research for a film a while back and found someone with a warehouse full of the machines/dispensers for sale.

  8. boxwoodbooks Says:


  9. countrypaul Says:

    I went as a kid, but I don’t remember to which one. I recall that it was less a culinary experience than a novel one, but my parents were very good about giving me a wide range of experiences not available in our then somewhat cloistered suburb (no automats in New Rochelle!).

  10. Maxine Cady Says:

    Loved going to an automat as a kid. Parents gave me the coins and let me choose what I wanted. Felt so grown up.

  11. Emily Berleth Says:

    My automat was at 104th and Broadway. The beautiful building is still there. I remember putting in 3 nickels and getting an egg salad sandwich.

  12. Andrew Porter Says:

    Friends wrote about how you could have a very cheap date there during the Depression. The Saltines were free, and you could use water and ketchup to make a sort of tomato soup. So you could take the subway for a nickel and hang out at the Automat in Times Square and get home—spending less than a quarter!

    I remember the one in the Airlines Building on 42nd Street, across from Grand Central. Loved the lion’s head spigot, from which poured hot chocolate!

  13. Chris F Says:

    I remember going tot he one on 42nd as well – had a company holiday party there ca. 1980

  14. petlover1948 Says:

    Yes; my Daddy brought me there once in a while. So exciting for a kid

  15. Peter Says:

    “Easy Living” (1937) with Jean Arthur and Edward Arnold also has some memorable automat scenes as I recall.

  16. Kiwiwriter Says:

    I had lunch a few times at the last one.

  17. Ken Says:

    There’s a new place in Jersey City called “Automat” and it really is one, except the food is more upscale.

  18. Max Says:

    In the 70s, there was a newer H&H (or remodeled) in the Penn Station/MSG neighborhood. It offered outstanding food-full meals- of a high quality at H&H’s price point. I was sad to see it go but think Burger King had already bought the location to turn it into another of their indistinguishable fry pits.

  19. Christopher Duquette Says:

    I worked at an international bank on upper Park Ave, close to Grand Central Station. My BF grew up in NYC (the projects on Avenue D) as well as working for one of the premiere air carriers who paid him handsomely as well as announced their leadership by acquiring and butting their logo on the structure built on top of Grand Central Station. One evening he agreed to meet me after my corporate job day ended and took me to the ‘Automat’ on 42nd Street/Lexington Ave. I had seen ‘Automats’ portrayed in movies, but never went lower on the dining scale than ‘Howard Johnsons’. This was pre-McDonalds. I was more intrigued by the operation than the culinary fare. I excused myself to use the restroom, and as I relieved myself at a urinal, encountered what a sociality class I attended at Stony Brook University categorized as ‘tearoom trade’. I was dumbfounded, and quickly left the rest room to return to my BF who could see that I was pale, and I disclosed to him my experience. My BF never took me to the ‘Automat’ again. RIP. http://www.ChristopherDuquette.com

  20. Anthony M Thomas Says:

    There is a book the Soviet agent who worked with Julius Rosenberg wrote about his days as a spy. He recounts that Julius was completely selfless and dedicated refusing to take compensation, gifts, money for his work which had nothing to do with the A bomb other than introducing his brother in law, but did involve scientific military secrets and organizing other engineers across the country to give electronic and avionic infomation to the USSR. So the agent, a typical soviet piecard decided he could reward Julius by taking him out to fancy restaurants around Broadway. Julius refused. He demanded to have their shared meals at the Automat. He said Russia to spend its money on tanks to fight Hitler no dinners on Broadway!

    • Bob Says:

      Per the NY Times:

      Alexander Feklisov, a retired K.G.B. colonel, claimed he was Julius Rosenberg’s handler in New York City between 1943 and 1946. [… Rosenberg] is credited here with passing along, in an Automat [at Broadway and 38th Street], ”a fully assembled proximity fuse,” which Mr. Feklisov says the Soviets used to shoot down an American U-2 spy plane in 1960.

  21. Arabelle Felton Says:

    Growing up in Manhattan was the best. during lunch period at school I’d hustle out to the automat on broadway get, my nickles, perfectly tossed on the marble counter and go directly to the area where they had the best damn baked macaroni in a brown oval ramakin. To this day, whenever I think of it, the taste miraculously enters my mouth. Dem were the good ole days

  22. Ryan Kalish Says:

    I went with my mother often opposite Bryant Park on 6th Ave. after the dentist, after shopping at Stern’s Dept Store. I kept going into the early seventies especially to one on Nassau St in the basement. Then they all began to close. People never mention the typical cafeteria line aside from the windows. The best mashed potatoes. From the window, the baked macaroni, the baked beans and the best chocolate cup cakes. Milk from the ornate spigot. Later on the coffee. The windows were fun for a child but I liked the whole Automat food experience.

  23. The Automat is gone—but a faded Automat ad still remains in the Garment District | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] democratic? Take it from a 1933 rhyme printed in the New York Sun that went like this: said the technocrat/to the plutocrat/to the autocrat/and the […]

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