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Long Lost and Lamented: Automats, 1912 - 1991

For the next hour of Classics Week, Robert Siestema pays homage to some of New York's finest restaurants now lost to history.

Ephemeral New York

Power HourHorn & Hardart was a Philadelphia company that opened its first Automat in Times Square in 1912. The spare and modern dining room was flanked by a matrix of windowed compartments. You dropped a nickel into the slot and the door would swing open to allow you to remove a bun, a fish cake, or a serving of beans. The public went crazy for these automated lunchrooms. By the 1950s there were 50 such places in the city, and the offerings had been expanded to include sandwiches, soups, mac-and-cheese, and pieces of pie. Gradually in the 1980s, many automats were replaced by Burger Kings, and the last one expired in 1991. That's besides the brief revival brought on by Bamn! Automat, which lasted on novelty between 2006 and 2009 on St. Mark's Place.

The modern equivalent is found at Chinese bakeries like Fay Da, were buns filled with green onions, fermented black beans, or hot dogs may be removed from windowed glass compartments, shelves, and warming boxes.