Posts Tagged ‘Horn & Hardart Automat’

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]

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.