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This Is Not An REM Song
October 11, 2006 3:07 PM   Subscribe

The Automat was a remarkable, culturally ubiquitous part of the history of both Philadelphia and New York City. The basic concept wasn't unusual, but the Art Deco style was unique. Now, BAMN! Food has revived the concept and the name.
posted by scrump (47 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
And, in the realm of personal anecdote, I've been in love with these ever since I read Frank Conroy's description in Body and Soul, one of my favorite novels.
posted by scrump at 3:14 PM on October 11, 2006


Revived it?

Anybody who has ever been to the Netherlands and witnessed the dreaded Febo will know that the automat never died -- it just lay mouldering in Holland for a few years.

Personally, you couldn't pay me to eat from there.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:19 PM on October 11, 2006


Inspired by this thread, no?
In any event, I hope they have those giant ribs like on The Flintstones.
posted by evilcolonel at 3:22 PM on October 11, 2006


I've always loved the idea. I wonder if I'd really love the execution. It's worth a try though. "Insert money, open door, PIE!" This is a no-lose situation!
posted by Dreama at 3:23 PM on October 11, 2006


DOH.

Yes, credit where credit is due.
posted by scrump at 3:24 PM on October 11, 2006


I tried an item from the place (some kind of Pork Roll.) It wasn't as bad as I'd expected, but still mediocre. Considering all the great food available nearby, even if you need it ready in under a minute, there's no reason to eat there. The gimmick of opening the door and sliding your food out isn't that special.

The one thing I wonder is what happens if you put in your money and open two doors simultaneously, since all doors in the column are unlocked when you put your coins in. I can't see how they'd stop it except by being very sensitive to the fact that a human will inevitably open one door slightly ahead of the other. I suppose an alarm could go off after the fact, though.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 3:25 PM on October 11, 2006


I very vaguely remember being taken into the city along with a couple of sibs and eating at one of these -- I must've been emerging from toddlerhood. I was fascinated at the "apartment building full of food in the windows" -- it seemed magical, the way everything does at that age.
posted by pax digita at 3:32 PM on October 11, 2006


The new one is also not Art Deco at all. I've heard they actually paid someone who's famous as an architect to design it, which these days of course means it looks like shit. A curvy pink eyesore.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 3:33 PM on October 11, 2006


I've been to the BAMN! on St. Marks. The peanut butter empanadas are tasty.
posted by jonmc at 3:34 PM on October 11, 2006


Is the 'N' silent, or does it rhyme with 'Gammon'?
posted by Flashman at 3:44 PM on October 11, 2006


Scrump, I'm reading that novel now and just thought of the same thing.
posted by emelenjr at 3:48 PM on October 11, 2006


scrump, that is an awesome post title. Though if I have gotten the joke correctly, it should be not an REM album, since there's no song with the name that was implied either. Unless I didn't get the joke.
posted by cacophony at 3:56 PM on October 11, 2006


cacophony: ssh, I'm hoping nobody noti...SONOFA

*facepalm*
posted by scrump at 4:06 PM on October 11, 2006


I saw one of these in Dark City on my way to Shell Beach. It’s just past Main Street West to... or is it the Cross... You know, that's funny, I can't remember if it's Main Street West or the Crosstown.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:28 PM on October 11, 2006


Yay, I inspired something. Will you buy me a crumb cake from the automat?
posted by dame at 4:28 PM on October 11, 2006


You don't know how happy this makes me. I always wanted to eat at the Automat but never went to NYC until well after the last one had been closed. I am so there the next time I am in NYC. : )
posted by SisterHavana at 4:39 PM on October 11, 2006


This looks really neat.

/tries to think of an Emeril joke, and fails.
posted by bardic at 4:40 PM on October 11, 2006


Isn't BAMN! where the New York Milkshake Company was? They had waffle/ ice cream sandwiches, and I liked those. Also, peanut-butter milkshakes.

Most of the food on St. Marks is not great.
posted by Bookhouse at 4:53 PM on October 11, 2006


tries to think of an Emeril joke, and fails.

That old Onion sidebar "Emeril Bams Groupie!" pretty much cornered the market on LaGassian humor, methinks.
posted by jonmc at 4:54 PM on October 11, 2006


Most of the food on St. Marks is not great.

Stromboli on St. Marks & 1st makes a nice slice of pizza.
posted by jonmc at 4:55 PM on October 11, 2006


Isn't BAMN! where the New York Milkshake Company was? They had waffle/ ice cream sandwiches, and I liked those. Also, peanut-butter milkshakes.

Their milkshakes were really overpriced. If I want liquid refreshment (non-alcoholic) in that area, I go to that place on Avenue A with the 15 flavors of killer egg creams.
posted by jonmc at 4:59 PM on October 11, 2006


Holy shit, what's egg cream!?
posted by redteam at 5:05 PM on October 11, 2006


Most of the food on St. Marks is not great.

Kenka is totally awesome. Also, BAMN! is pretty good, it's really cheap, they force you to pay with coins (there are change machines), and it's open 24/7 (horray fast cheap drunk food!). I had mozarella sticks, chicken nuggets, and grilled cheese. The grilled cheese was especially tasty, and the rest was decent (i.e. worth the price). Get stuff from the bottom, thats where the freshest stuff is, people always take from the top, and they move up stuff before it's refilled.

jonmc: where is this place on ave A you speak of?
posted by Mach5 at 5:06 PM on October 11, 2006


Yeah, what's the place on Avenue A? I still haven't developed a taste for egg creams.

(And, yeah, the Milkshake Company's shakes were expensive, but that waffle sandwich ...)
posted by Bookhouse at 5:09 PM on October 11, 2006


Holy shit, what's egg cream!?

milk, seltzer, and flavored syrup. better than it sounds.

jonmc: where is this place on ave A you speak of?


just above seventh. This is what it looks like from the outside.
posted by jonmc at 5:10 PM on October 11, 2006


The best real egg cream I've had is made by an old lady with the cheapest diner ever. It's way far from the train in Greenpoint (Nassau & N. Henry). If you're up for an adventure, I think Bea's is worth the trip. I swear they haven't raised the prices or changed their menu since 1940.
posted by dame at 5:16 PM on October 11, 2006


Anybody who has ever been to the Netherlands and witnessed the dreaded Febo will know that the automat never died -- it just lay mouldering in Holland for a few years.

Are you kidding? I was there last year and the meat pastry for 1 euro was AWESOME.
posted by linux at 5:22 PM on October 11, 2006


Holy shit, what's egg cream!?

A New York specialty. No egg, no cream, yet the name is oddly appropriate. Allegedly (even in the 80s) you can't get a "real" egg cream except in the outer boroughs anymore. Certainly it is next to impossible to get one anywhere but New York (although I used to get them in Jersey).

As for the Automat, I have used these for years. They're called employee break rooms.

The one thing I wonder is what happens if you put in your money and open two doors simultaneously,

There's an interlock that works just fine on low-tech vending machines, so I don't know why they couldn't use it here. If you try more than one you get bupkis.
posted by dhartung at 5:25 PM on October 11, 2006


Allegedly (even in the 80s) you can't get a "real" egg cream except in the outer boroughs anymore.

The ones at the place I linked to are the real thing, even if they come in odd flavors. But that Bea's place sounds intriguing.
posted by jonmc at 5:27 PM on October 11, 2006


One thing the automats were known for was the ketchup sandwich. Bread was a nickel a slice, ketchup was free, coffee was another nickel. So for 15 cents, you could get lunch: 2 slices of break, ketchup in between, coffee.
posted by beagle at 5:28 PM on October 11, 2006


One thing the automats were known for was the ketchup sandwich.

My dad, NYC born & raised, after a night of drinking with his buddies, would come home and fix himself a mustard sandwich on white bread and a chocolate milk. Supposedly it was good hangover prevention, I've never tried it. But at his 60th birthday party last year, his sister, my Aunt Annie, gave him a loaf of Wonder bread, a jar of Gulden's and some Bosco.
posted by jonmc at 5:34 PM on October 11, 2006


I love me some break.

This automat thing is very 'The Future is Now'.
posted by oxford blue at 5:35 PM on October 11, 2006


Supposedly it was good hangover prevention,
Yeah, because after eating one, you were determined to never, ever get that drunk again.
posted by scrump at 5:40 PM on October 11, 2006


jonmc writes "milk, seltzer, and flavored syrup. better than it sounds."

Huh. At a cafe I used to frequent on the Best Coast, they just called them Italian Cream Soda. The syrups were the Torani blend, so you could have one of about thirty or so flavours. I loved those things.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:11 PM on October 11, 2006


Aww, I remember the old Horn & Hardart automats. When I was a kid we ate there occasionally and it was magic - nowhere else had cool little windows where the food was magically replenished, and nowhere else in my small world could a little kid with a fistful of change actually buy their own food without asking a grownup for help. (I was limited to selections in the lowest row of windows, since that's all I could reach, but it was a delight all the same.) I suppose there must have been food vending machines by the early 1960s, but I don't remember them at all. The automat, on the other hand, was a royal banquet in my memory, thanks in part to the wonderful Art Deco architecture. Custard pie with a soggy crust is fit for a king when served taken from a tiny window in a dining room of chrome, black glass and beige marble.

I was sad when the last one closed and delighted to see the unmistakable little windows in the cafeteria at the Smithsonian, only to be crushed when it turned out they were for display only.

Oh, and Horn & Hardart made The. Best. Baked. Beans. EVAR. I'm still trying to find the recipe, and I've been know to buy whole cookbooks that promised to have that magic formula. (I'm getting close, but still not quite there, and one can't cook baked beans too frequently, you know...)
posted by Quietgal at 6:24 PM on October 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


Huh. At a cafe I used to frequent on the Best Coast, they just called them Italian Cream Soda.

That's what they call them at bookstore coffee bars too. But, trust me, they were egg creams first.
posted by jonmc at 6:43 PM on October 11, 2006


There was an automat in Prague until maybe 1992.
The food was pretty grim.
posted by lw at 7:35 PM on October 11, 2006


When I was a kid I read a Hardy Boys book that had a scene set in an automat. It made them sound pretty cool.
posted by rfs at 9:43 PM on October 11, 2006


BAMN! kinda sucks. It's typical fast food fare except they're just *really* obvious about the fact that your food's been sitting there a while. Besides, they don't give you any place to eat it. Presumably, you're supposed to negotiate with the bums on St. Mark's for doorway space.

It's no Horn & Hardart's, that's for sure. I'll remember those baked beans, mac & cheese, and harvard beets until the end of time.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:56 PM on October 11, 2006


Has anyone mentioned P.D.Q. Bach's Concerto for Horn & Hardart? I too remember the Automat, and Quietgal, you're right - it was magic to a kid.
posted by QuietDesperation at 10:29 PM on October 11, 2006


The Gem Spa (insert photo of New York Dolls in front) on the corner of St. Mark's and 2nd Ave. makes Egg Creams, as does the place on Ave. A and 7th between where Leshko's was and the old Odessa is.

Anyone know the name of the Japanese place west of BAMN that has, among other things, bull penis on the menu (no I haven't tried it) and a cotton candy machine out front?

I've had the Mac n' cheese egg roll thing from BAMN -- good drunk food, even as I felt myself edging closer to death from it...

St. Mark's does have some good places -- I've always liked Khyber Pass...
posted by AJaffe at 6:34 AM on October 12, 2006


Hey, I've been there! It was really fun- the food wasn't overly great but it was decent (I liked the Mac n Cheese Krokets and the Donuts) and a fun place to try. The thing that is REALLY great about BAMN is that they serve REAL shaved ice (not chipped ice that sticks together into one big cube), like you get in Japan. I've been looking for real shaved ice ever since I moved to the city, and had been unsuccessful up until BAMN!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:30 AM on October 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


and they have frites, but although i haven't had them, i'd guess the ones at the place around the corner (which i've had way too much) are better.
posted by AJaffe at 7:32 AM on October 12, 2006


The frites are decent but not great; I've heard the ones around the corner ARE better, AJaffe.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:47 AM on October 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


Anyone know the name of the Japanese place west of BAMN that has, among other things, bull penis on the menu (no I haven't tried it) and a cotton candy machine out front?

Kenka.

The place on A everyone's talking about with the fries and egg creams is called "Ray's Candy Store," but you have to look at the ATM or the Health Department website to find that. (They have surprisingly few violations.)

To round out the list of places better than BAMN, I'll add Cafe Rakka on St Marks near 1st for gyros, falafel, and so on, and Paul's just south of St Marks and 2nd for burgers.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:32 AM on October 12, 2006


Paul's just south of St Marks and 2nd for burgers

Tim speaketh truth. Best burgers in New York.
posted by jonmc at 8:30 PM on October 12, 2006


Yeah, I'm with jonmc and Tim. Paul's is where its at. Great pickles and egg creams, too.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:40 PM on October 12, 2006


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