The last coin-operated cafeteria in the country has closed in midtown Manhattan, a bit of Americana beat out by the fast-growing fast-food restaurant industry.
The Horn & Hardart Automat at the corner of Third Avenue and East 42nd Street shut down Tuesday night, although the window sign read: "Closed for Renovation."Company officials said Wednesday that for the past year they had been trying to sell the last automat, which opened in 1958 - well after the heyday of New York automats in the 1930s to 1950s.
Horn & Hardart has now turned its attention to the mail-order business, officials explained.
At their height, there were at least 30 automats in New York, serving 800,000 meals a day through little coin-operated glass windows.
The first automat was opened by luncheonette owners Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart in 1902 in Philadelphia. Eight years later, the first waiterless automat opened in New York City.
Over the years, however, the automat found fame in New York, where socialites and celebrities mixed with people with little money to burn, prompting playwright Neil Simon to describe it as "the Maxim's of the disenfranchised."
Still, the fortunes of the automat fell as those of the fast-food franchise rose, company officials conceded.
A number of New Yorkers mourned its passing.
"It was equivalent to the Woolworth Building and Macy's windows as the most public place in town," former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern told The New York Times. "It was everything. It was wonderfully civilized."
And New York Daily News writer Arthur Schwartz recalled, "The baked beans were still made with molasses. The fish cakes were still bready, their accompanying spaghetti mushy and its sauce much too sweet. The macaroni and cheese was, as always, in need of salt and best around the crusty parts. And the coconut custard pie was still near perfection."