Posts Tagged ‘Automat’

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.

Getting a sandwich—and hit on—at the Automat

March 7, 2011

The Horn & Hardart Automat is one of those institutions New Yorkers seem to collectively mourn the loss of.

Call it early 20th century fast food: Put a nickel in the slot and turn the chrome-plated knob, and a glass window would open granting you access to the food item of your choice: macaroni and cheese, baked beans, Salisbury steak, pie and of course, a hot cup of coffee.

From 1912 to the mid-1960s, the city had up to 50 Automats, like this one depicted on Depression-era color postcard.

The easy-access food wasn’t its only appeal. The Automat was a place you could sit and nurse a cup of coffee all night long—and got hit on by a famous Beat poet, as Patti Smith recalls in her tender memoir about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, Just Kids.

[Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe on their West 23rd Street fire escape, about 1970]

“One drizzly afternoon I had a hankering for one of those cheese-and-lettuce sandwiches.

“I got my tray and slipped in my coins but the window wouldn’t open. I tried again without luck and then I noticed the price had gone up to sixty-five cents. I was disappointed to say the least, when I heard a voice say, ‘Can I help?’

“I turned around and it was Allen Ginsberg.

“Allen added the extra dime and also stood me to a cup of coffee. I wordlessly followed him to his table, and then plowed into the sandwich.

“Allen introduced himself. He was talking about Walt Whitman and I mentioned I was raised near Camden, where Whitman was buried, when he leaned forward and looked at me intently. ‘Are you a girl?’ he asked.

“‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Is that a problem?’

“He just laughed. ‘I’m sorry. I took you for a very pretty boy.’

“I got the picture immediately.”

Times Square all lit up in Technicolor

December 30, 2008

This vintage postcard captures a rain-slicked Times Square bursting with color and light at night. It must be 1951; Ten Tall Men and Across the Wide Missouri were both released that year. 

timessquareatnightThe Automat is on the left. Who knew that its heyday as the place to go for machine-dispensed food and drink anytime of the day or night would soon be drawing to a close?

“Shall we go down by the automat?”

May 3, 2008

This ad for Horn & Hardart’s automat in Times Square survives in midtown, but the automat itself is pretty much part of restaurant history. It was a terrific machine-age idea: Pop a few coins in the slot, select the dish you want, and out comes your food from one of the many compartments.

Dozens of automats thrived all over the city. But after the 1960s, fast food outlets multiplied, and, well, you know the rest. The last Horn & Hardart’s, on Third Avenue and 42nd Street, was shuttered in 1991. 

The Times Square automat was a big hangout for Beat writers. In Lonesome Traveler, Jack Kerouac writes, “Shall we go down by the automat and watch the old ladies eating beans?”