Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Three nickels in a slot…and Dinner is Served





The first time I went to the famous Horn & Hardart Automat in New York City it was 1941 and I was eight years old. I was fascinated with the bank of tiny glass windows that protected an array of delicious food dishes. It seemed like magic to me. I’d make a selection, insert a nickel and the glass door would pop open so I could retrieve the food.

For a few nickels you could get the equivalent of a small dinner. Specialties of the house would be Macaroni and Cheese, Boston Baked Beans or Chicken Pot Pie. Rice pudding was a favorite, as were all types of pies and cakes and my Dad told me it was the best place in town to get a fresh cup of coffee.

When I moved to NY City in 1957 and got a job at WABC Radio I couldn’t wait to see if the Automat was still in business. To my great delight I saw that it was ! I had forgotten that there was also a cafeteria line, as well as the machines that dispensed the food, and I had a great time getting reacclimated.

As you can see from the picture of the front entrance to Horn & Hardart’s the ambience was Art Deco. It was a fun place and a nice change from the stuffy, “old lady” dining rooms such as “Schrafts”. Self-service was a boon and you didn’t have to contend with tips or a staff of waiters or waitresses hovering at your table.

Although the prices had increased it was still a great bargain in 1957 and most entrees were under a dollar. Nickels were the only coins accepted and the tinkling sound of them being dropped into the slots made a pleasant background. The clientele was eclectic and the “haves” and the “have-nots” all assembled to partake of the excellent food...prepared fresh every day.

As I understand it, the Horn & Hardart Automat in NY City was the longest hold-out and stayed in business until 1991. It is now a “Gap”. It’s nostalgic to realize that we will probably never again see a time when a handful of nickels and the twist of a wrist is all that was needed to buy a good square meal.

6 Comments:

Blogger Beatrice P. Boyd said...

While I was never fortunate enough to have eaten in a H&H it was an important part of so many folks memories. After reading your post, I wished there was one to go into today.

6:31 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

I've seen pictures of the Automats. I imagine it had to be an interesting experience. Now that I think about it, there's a memory of being at one when I was a young girl in Chicago. Could have been a dream though!
Love Di ♥

4:15 AM  
Anonymous schmidleysscribblins,wordpress.com said...

I never saw the Automat, but heard about it on radio and TV as part of a joke line from time to time (Jack Benny?).

We didn't have such fancy things in my part of the world, NYC was exotica for me. We did have the old S&W cafeteria in Greensboro, however, and I loved their strawberry shortcake. Dianne

7:01 AM  
Blogger troutbirder said...

Unbelievable. I was there in 1959 on our senior class trip to Washing and NYC. What memories...:)

5:12 AM  
Blogger Syd said...

A nice memory. I don't remember this but do remember going to Woolworth's to get a limeade.

2:20 PM  
Blogger possum said...

OMG! I had forgotten all about that place - and then the name rang all sorts of bells.
You have taken me down the long road called Memory Lane once again!

7:30 AM  

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