Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Continuing with old-time memories...


Three nickels in a slot…and Dinner is Served ...

The first time I went to the famous Horn & Hardart Automat 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. As soon as you made a selection and inserted your nickels the glass door would pop open and you could retrieve your food. Then, almost as quickly, the food would reappear again…ready for the next hungry customer. (I didn’t know that there was a kitchen staff behind the windows refilling them as needed.)

For a few nickels you could actually 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, when I got to Third Ave. and 42nd St., I saw that it was ! As you can see from the picture of the front entrance the ambience was Art Deco. It was a fun place and a nice change from the stuffy, “old lady” dining rooms such as “Schraffts”. 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.


Blogger Marie Smith said...

Those days are gone…sadly. Great memories though, Ginnie.

4:44 PM  
Blogger Arkansas Patti said...

That brought back memories. The only one I saw was in NYC but I don't remember the name. I was about 8 and my uncle took us to one. I swore it was magic and was so disappointed there were none when we got back to Ohio.

4:53 PM  
Blogger kenju said...

I went to NYC when I was in college, in 1961, and we went to a Horn and Hardart. I was fascinated by the variety of foods available. I had a piece of lemon meringue pie with my coffee. I recall it was delicious!

7:50 PM  
Blogger Anvilcloud said...

I have some vague memories of such hee and there — in a grand train station for example, I think. But never an actual restaurant sort of place. Now even that ubiquitous burger place is pretty expensive.

7:09 AM  
Blogger Goldendaze-Ginnie said...

This is from my friend Jan;

Oh my goodness! I had totally forgotten all about Horn & Hardart. I only ate at an H&H a few times, in Philadelphia, I remember, and in Richmond, I think.
It was fun, the novelty of it all. That is true. But I also enjoyed having lunch at the various Tea Rooms - Wannamaker's comes to mind. That was exciting for someone who lived in the boondocks and so seldom ever got to the "City" - whichever city it might be.
Thanks for jogging my memory, Ginnie!

7:10 AM  
Blogger Linda P. said...

I decided to check what $0.15 in 1941 would be worth today. One converter says $2.97: still not enough to buy a chicken pot pie most places, I would imagine.

11:04 AM  
Blogger Joared said...

Interesting memory. Sorry I never had occasion to eat at an automat.

11:21 PM  

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