Posts Tagged ‘Automat New York City’

Hot coffee and pie at a Sixth Avenue Automat

May 27, 2019

The last Automat in New York City closed its doors in 1991, and I wish I had the foresight back then to give the hot coffee and much-heralded slices of pie a try.

Instead, I’ll have to suffice with memoirs and stories from old-timers, who happily recall the more than 40 Automats scattered across the city in the middle of the 20th century—their steel and glass sleekness, their comfort, and how sitting in one made a newcomer feel a little more like a real New Yorker.

[Sixth Avenue and 57th Street Automat postcard from 1935: MCNY F2011.33.1809]

What remains of a 1930 Upper West Side automat

January 4, 2016

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.

Automat1942nypl

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.

Automat1970s

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.

Automat2015

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.

AutomatjeanarthurBut 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]

Julian’s pool hall and an Automat on 14th Street

October 14, 2013

Certain defunct New York businesses are remembered with great fondness.

One 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 dispensed hot coffee, sandwiches, baked beans, and pie to millions of busy New Yorkers cheaply and efficiently.

Automatjulians14thstreet

Another is Julian’s pool academy, a seedy but popular venue for decades that’s been gone from East 14th Street since 1991.

Who knew these two beloved establishments once shared the same building at 115 East 14th Street?

Automat14thstreetinside1935

An Ephemeral reader did, and he sent this photo, from 1933, showing the original location of Julian’s upstairs from an automat. The building was demolished in the early 1980s to make way for Zeckendorf Towers, and Julian’s moved across the street to the old Palladium building, once the Academy of Music.

The second photo, from the NYPL Digital Gallery, was taken two years later, showing the new revolving door at the automat. What a treat!

When the city dined at the Times Square Automat

March 7, 2013

“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.

Timessquareautomat

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.

A photographer captures Times Square in color

April 12, 2012

Born in Paris in 1906 and trained as an architect, Andreas Feininger arrived in New York in 1939.

He soon landed a job as a staff photographer for Life magazine, which lasted into the early 1960s.

In that time, he had the opportunity to shoot all kinds of people and places. He’s known for his sweeping black and white vistas of the city skyline, buildings, and industry.

But it’s his color photos of 1950s Times Square that capture something magical and luminous.

The eerie glow of billboard lights, sidewalks slick with rain, and faceless bodies milling about under theater marquees depict Times Square’s midcentury beauty and mystery.

“I see the city as a living organism: dynamic, sometimes violent, and even brutal,” he reportedly said.

See more of Feininger’s haunting, glorious New York photos (mostly in black and white) here.