An automat is a fast food restaurant where simple foods and drinks are served by vending machines. The world’s first automat was named Quisisana, which opened in Berlin, Germany in 1895.
The first automat in the U.S. was opened June 12, 1902, at 818 Chestnut St. in Philadelphia by Horn & Hardart; Horn & Hardart became the most prominent American automat chain.
The automats were popular with a wide variety of patrons, including Walter Winchell, Irving Berlin and other celebrities of the era. The New York automats were popular with unemployed songwriters and actors. Playwright Neil Simon called automats “the Maxim’s of the disenfranchised” in a 1987 article.
I didn’t have any money to come into the city and go drinking—I was still flopping (in more ways than one) at my parents’ Brooklyn apartment—but I could always lay my hands on a quarter. So one Sunday night I took the subway to Manhattan (a nickel), spent two cents on the Daily News and two cents on the Daily Mirror, and went to Horn & Hardart, the automat where for a dime you could get a roll and the best baked beans that were ever made. Then I headed for Leon and Eddie’s.