Automat by Berenice Abbott, 1936
In the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s Automats were a New York City dining staple for a hard-working lunch crowd, a modernist icon for a boundless machine-age future. At their height there were over three dozen in the city, serving 800,000 people a day. And nearly everyone who actually experienced Automats in their heyday says the same thing: They never forgot the thrill of being a kid at the Automat.
Created by Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart in Philadelphia in 1902, coin-operated Automats were lovingly-designed Art Deco temples to modern efficiency. Sleek steel and glass vending machine grids displayed sandwiches and main dishes as well as desserts and sides, each in their own little boxes, square and even, clean and well-lit. You put a coin in the slot, opened the door and removed your food—which was reportedly quite good, as the founders took terrific pride in their craft.
What was it about the experience that made for such a lasting memory?
- You never step foot in a fast food joint (right? RIGHT?!), but for those times when it’s an emergency and you need that greasy, fried goodness I Quant NY reported on the cleanest fast food chain in the city, so you can at least eat some grub that wasn’t dropped on the floor first.
- Continuing on our food journey, The Village Voice rounded up the 10 iconic New York foods and where to find them.
- Why aren’t the souvenirs from NYC as great as this cartoon tourist map tablecloth Scouting NY‘s aunt got in the 50s?! Check out the old Madison Square Garden building (closed in ’68).
- Ever wanted to see a brand, spankin’ new subway car before it becomes a hub of germs, dirt and mysterious stains? Business Insider gets an exclusive look at how and where they’re built. We wonder if it has that new (subway) car smell…
Images: Tourist tablecloth map by Nick Carr for Scouting NYC (L); Inside a new subway car by Christian Storm for Business Insider (R)
Photo: Cafe Grumpy in Greenpoint by Premshree Pillai cc
From “coffices” to lab-like minimalist gourmet coffee meccas to cozy neighborhood hangouts, neighborhood cafes are a fine example of the essential “third place” mentioned in discussions of community dynamics: that place, neither work nor home, where regulars gather and everyone’s welcome.
Along with yoga studios, art galleries, community gardens, vintage clothing shops, restaurants with pedigreed owners and adventurous menus and, some say, a change in the offerings on local grocery shelves, cafes are often the earliest sign of neighborhood change. The neighborhood cafe serves as a testing ground for community cohesiveness while adventurous entrepreneurs test the still-unfamiliar waters around them. Beyond the literal gesture of offering sustenance, cafes provide a place where you can actually see who your neighbors are and appreciate the fact that at least some of them are willing to make an investment locally.
Get a fleeting glimpse of old New York City cafe culture in the West Village, meet the future of coffee distribution in Red Hook.
American diners are neon-lit time capsules of architecture and design. They are the ’57 Ford Thunderbird of restaurants, shaping post-war optimism and far too much metal into something beautiful and quintessentially American. Best of all, you can still find plenty of little diners doing what they have always done, among the rising skylines and property values of New York City.
See our diner photos here