MEET ME AT THE AUTOMAT

horn&hardart
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Guest post by ForgottenFan David Silver

While walking down 7th Avenue about a month ago, I happened to look up at at the parking structure at the corner of 37th and 7th.  This structure was supposed to be used for all the people who enjoyed throwing their money away at the nearby OTB.  Since the OTB is now a thing of the past, it is now used for regular parking.  On the roof, the spots are reserved for all the monthly cars who like to keep their Mercedes and BMW’s away from the riffraff.  It is up here, where we see an ever interesting ad for a basically extinct thing of the past: the Automat.

The Automat was first brought to the US in 1902 by Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart, who opened up their first restaurant in Philadelphia.  New York City got their first Automat 10 years later in 1912.  Sadly, the Automat has been but a distant memory for the better part of 40 years, with the last Horn & Hardart closing in 1991.  There was a brief revival on St. Marks Place, but that only existed for a couple of years.

The ad is on the back wall of the parking garage roof, and can be easily viewed from the corner of 37th and 7th.  However, why stop there, when you can see it eye to eye?  On this day, I walked into the garage and asked the lead parking attendant if I could go to the roof.  While skeptical at first, he soon understood why I wanted to go there, and was very nice about letting me up.  Upon my arrival on the 6th floor, I was greeted by two more attendants.  These men, after a short conversation, went to great lengths to accommodate me.  The layout of the roof is as such; cars parked on the roof itself, with a 2nd level of elevated spots placed above the bottom layer of cars.  This second layer was blocking a perfect view of the ad.  With a quick inquiry, the two men stole away when business became slow, and proceeded to move four different cars and lower 2 different elevated parking spots, so as to clear up my shot.  For that, I would like to thank the men of the (Kinney?) parking garage on 37th Street and 7th Avenue.  For a day, I could just imagine entering the restaurant on the corner of 37th and Broadway, popping in a few nickels, and having a good meal.  A guy can dream, can’t he?





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21 Responses to MEET ME AT THE AUTOMAT

  1. Eileen says:

    Fabulous….love all your posts…bought your book…hope to join you on a walking tour someday soon….miss the automats…only went a few times before there were no more to go to, but such fun (and on a budget)!

  2. Pat says:

    I used to work for the phone company right in that area. I ate in that H&H a few times.

  3. Warren Westbo says:

    What a great concept it was… drop your coins into the slot, open the little door, lunch is served. And the food was yummy!

  4. Jean says:

    Love it. I miss the mac and cheese so bad! The dolphin fountains dispensing coffee or water. Sigh…..

  5. Gary Farkash says:

    For those who want to see what this was all about…. Go to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC. They have a recreation of an automat inside one of the museums.
    I wsa there a few years ago and it was a lot of fun describing what is was, to people who thought I was a volunteer at the Smithsonian.

  6. Elwood says:

    38th St, not 37th. Unless Google Street View is off by a block.

  7. Adrastos says:

    wow, the automat, still had the best franks and beans in the world.
    i remember it so vividly.

    there was one on 42 and lex, if my memory serves me right.

  8. Maria says:

    My mom would take me there alot.

  9. Howie Roman says:

    One of the highlights of my childhood. Late 50′s -early 60′s my Dad would take us to the movies around Times Sq. and lunch at the Automat. We were fascinated by the whole deal and loved it when you’s occasionally see a hand adjust or place a piece of pie.
    Would love to see the recreation at the Smithsonian.

    • Jim says:

      Ditto for me. It was the late 50′s. My dad worked at Remington Rand on 6th in the 40′s. Mom took me into Manhattan one day to shop and meet up with him. We lived in Valley Stream and took the LIRR into Penn. There was a stop at H&H Automat that day and it was most likely this one. I’m astounded that this ad is still there. Hope that someone can keep it undisturbed any further.

  10. chris says:

    Ya look for a compartment that was empty,stick a cigarette butt under the latch and close the door.Wait for the attendant on the other side of the wall to fill it with a plate of food then ya just pull open the door and Voila! Free food at the Aotomat!
    Served up pipin’ hot and so delish.Ratso Rizzo should have used that trick

  11. Elena Paperny says:

    I remember the Automat on 42nd and Lexington. I went there with a friend from work for lunch back in the late ’80′s. It was already on the wane; surly waitresses and mediocre food. I also remember Dubrow’s Cafeteria, which operated much on the same premise, on Kings Highway in Brooklyn. I went there sometimes with my father when I was a little girl, and there were always the ‘regulars’, mostly older people who went there not only for good, inexpensive food, but for the cameraderie and the convenience of having it in the neighborhood. It too, alas, is long gone, and the people in the area are a mix of immigrants from Russia, China, and Mexico, as well as longtime Brooklyn residents.

  12. Bob Freedman says:

    @Jean. Amen. The macaroni and cheese was the absolute best. The cup cakes with the orange icing weren’t too shabby for a great desert.

  13. Beverly Seaton says:

    When I was an intern in NYC in the early fifties, my roommate and I always ate breakfast at the Automat, I had a hard roll with butter and milky coffee, and she had a powdered doughnut and milk. I still think that roll was the best roll ever. we were always in the city in November and December, suffering from the deadly still low temperatures along the avenues. As we approached the restaurant we would recite a parody of John Greenleaf Whittier’s Snowbound:

    “The sun that bright September morn
    Rose cheerless over Horn
    And Hardart”

  14. Beverly Seaton says:

    December…

  15. George Gauthier says:

    To see an automat in operation, watch the old Cary Grant movie “That Touch of Mink (1962)” Doris Day’s friend played by Audrey Meadows stocks the machines in an automat, and there is a long and funny scene set there.

  16. Tal Barzilai says:

    It would have been nice if we still had these, but I guess they weren’t so popular as time went by, which is why they are not around today.

  17. John Dereszewski says:

    The H&H that I most fondly remember was situated on West 57th St., between 6th and 7th. It was a truly palacial place, with a huge first floor and a balcony to boot. I remember going there many times after visiting my dentist, whose office was situated across the street at the Buckingham Hotel. Also situated across from the H&H was – and still is – Steinway Hall and the long gone Ritz Thrift Shop, which is still a vacant lot. (I fondly remember the radio ads for the latter on WQXR.) …….. The H&H lasted into the 70′s and was then replaced by a series of delis and restaurants that lasted for a few years and then closed. (The huge space must have made it extremely innefficient to operate.) At long last, the beautiful white stone ediface was demolished, and a large glass building now occupies that space.

  18. april says:

    I worked at W. 33rd and Eighth Ave., in the building attached to the automat. Does anyone remember this one? It was a real dive with all sorts of derelicts and junkies; I nearly got mugged in the bathroom. Their retail stores did have the best macaroni and cheese imaginable (white cheese with tiny pale tomato shreds). What did they use: swiss? And their turkey and chicken croquettes and spaghetti (with bits of green pepper, onion and diced tomato) were delicious.

  19. Les says:

    Does anyone remember Dubrows cafeteria on 38th and 7th, down the street from the Automat? I remember they had free seltzer dispensers. It later became an OTB. IMO the Automat and cafeterias
    went out of business because too many bums and vagrants would hang out there and scare away the paying customers.

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