October 3, 2008


I mentioned this last year on my Europe trip, but didn't have very good pictures - I still don't, but I do continually find this fascinating. In Amsterdam, the Automat is still very much alive and accepted. I'm not sure why I am so fascinated by this. Maybe because it just seems like such a great idea but one that wouldn't succeed in the US, though I'm not sure why. The automat is essentially a giant vending machine with a staff in back constantly refilling the slots with fresh food. Its all fast food junk stuff - fried cheese souffles, sausage sticks, burgers, chicken sandwiches, etc. Other things (drinks and fries - which are very popular probably given the proximity to Belgium) can be ordered from the cashier. I suppose the pedestrian nature of Amsterdam and that in Euro's, 1 and 2 dollar pieces are coins also helps. Part of my fascination with these also comes from my memory that Andy Warhol started automats in New York that didn't succeed. Of course, that memory of mine is completely wrong. According to the blog A Lucid Spoonful (God bless Google), the first US automat, Horn & Hardart, opened in Philadelphia in 1902 based on the Quisiana Automat in Berlin (I wonder if thats still around?). Horn & Hardart spread to New York and automats became common in the northeast. Suburbs, fast food, and inflation (making prices more than a few coins) all seemed to kill the automat in the 60's and 70's. It turns out Andy Warhol was fascinated by them too, but he never opened his idea for the "Andymat", featuring frozen odd gourmet foods and champagne and red velvet mohair banquets. There is a new automat called BAMN! that opened in New York in 2006 - I wish I had known that two months ago before my time there.
  • A Lucid Spoonful: The Automat
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