Remembering the Automat

Originally published at: Remembering the Automat | Boing Boing

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I’m interested in automats as well- I’m just barely old enough to have fond memories of them. I only wish there were more pictures. Every single article I have ever read uses that exact same photo. There was so much more going on behind the scenes to fill the little boxes, and a whole lot of them weren’t so nice looking out front. I also think hybrid restaurants were more common (where there was a traditional area and an automat area in the same space- this is what I remember). I guess I need to watch the documentary!

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Automat goes back to the mid-1800s in Sweden. The first American one was opened in 1902 in Philadelphia. (Bill Bryson, Made in America, p.191.)

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When I lived in Belgium about a decade ago there were still a few automats in some of the town centers. They weren’t particularly large and their main clientele was students. In the countryside you could also find vending machines for things like potatoes, bread, and mushrooms. I haven’t paid enough attention on recent visits to know if any of that is still around.

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In the Netherlands there is a chain of automats called FEBO, where you put in your euro and pull out a little snack, usually fried. You have to be served at the counter, though, if you want a drink, or some frites.

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When I was a wee lad, my father would take me to the Thanksgiving Day Parade every year. Afterwards, we would always go to the H&H Automat on 34th St. for a bite to eat, to hold us over til the big feast later on that evening. Fond memories there.

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Hit the Automat many a time in the 60’s, it was a rare treat for us to dine there.

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I’ve only encountered the Automat in media: Warner Brothers cartoons and a scene of the last one in Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan. I arrived in NYC too late to dine at one but perhaps this documentary will inspire someone to bring them back.

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There have been a few hipster attempts to do so, though I can’t find any of the articles now. I’m 90% confident at least one of those articles was posted on BB. :grin:

I think it probably makes minimal sense as a business model today, outside of hipster fauxstalgia branding opportunities. We have other more convenient, cost effective and fresher food-on-the-go solutions today. I think there’s probably also a critical mass of usage required, otherwise the food gets stale and cold in the little boxes and you end up with a lot of waste.

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I have fond memories of a family tip

Was your room a mess?

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Google is your friend. (In this case, Startpage, actually.) Though many do seem to be different pics of the same place. But plenty of other places, too.

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image

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Same here. Growing up in the Midwest, all we had were little choo-choo trains that carried your plate around the countertop.

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My mom took me to an H&H Automat in Manhattan, probably the 34th Street one, in the late 60s. I was maybe 7 years old. I was a little disappointed. The place was clean but kind of worn and beat up. Not futuristic like I expected. The one specific I recall was the coffee dispenser, which was the head of a dragon or lion or something, looked like it had all the shiny chrome worn off and no one cared to replace it.

(I had a piece of pie.)

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dean winchester pie GIF

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I’ve had anemoia for automats for most of my life, having only ever experienced them by watching old movies and TV shows (“That Girl” comes to mind). They seem like the coolest way to get food. A la carte, eclectic, presumably no tipping, and … little doors!!! I look forward to visiting an above-mentioned FEBO in the Netherlands someday.

Hey Bob Knetzger – do you happen to recall eating a Belgian waffle at the '64 World’s Fair? I’ve read that they were one of the most memorable things people encountered at the Fair.

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Sounds like the pandemic has inspired some people to do so (and there already were plans for such before the pandemic hit) in New York and New Jersey. (One in Jersey City is already open.) In some countries the idea never went away.

From stories I read, they seemed to be outnumbered by weird automated table delivery systems using robots (or track systems), etc. Though apparently I missed out on the fact that there’s a popular automat chain in the Netherlands, “FEBO,” and food vending machines in stores have been on the upswing in certain markets in the US. (And there are vending machine restaurants in Japan, etc. that are somewhere in the vicinity of an automat.)

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Once you mentioned a brand name I became curious enough to check Google Street View and I can see that the City Snack that I knew in Leuven is still there (or at least was in 2019).

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When I moved to NYC in the early 2000s, One opened up on Saint Marks right by the comic shop. We never patronized it but it was there for a few years. There are two dollar slice pizza places there now though…

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