When I was growing up in Texas, I went to the Broadway Theater every Saturday for the “Six to Sixty Matinee.” My parents would drop me off at Luby’s Cafeteria next door to the theater, where I would meet friends and revel in the choice of sandwiches, pies and cakes that were offered by servers behind glass counters. Then we would go to the movies, crunching popcorn and candy, and spending the whole afternoon in cinema bliss.
But nothing could compare to my family’s yearly visits to New York City, where I was always eager to return to “The Automat,” the Horn and Hardart restaurant famed for its “modern, hi-tech service.” I couldn’t wait to put in my nickel, open up a little glass window and take out a piece of cake or a dish of macaroni and cheese. I could even stoop down and look inside to see the person behind the window pushing the cake through to me. We entered the restaurant through huge brass framed glass doors, ate at marble tables and could get coffee or tea from shiny brass dolphin-headed spouts. A cashier in the center of the room took your dollar and gave you nickels and dimes to put into the slots of the little doors where your food awaited. It was all enchanting to a 10-year-old from Texas.
Next week we have a chance to reminisce about the historic restaurants that dotted New York City and Philadelphia in the early 20th century. “The Automat” opens Friday, April 29, 7 p.m., and continues Saturday, April 30, 7 p.m., Sunday, May 1, 2 p.m., Wednesday, May 4, 7 p.m. and Thursday, May 5, 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 ($8 for members) at the door.
“The Automat,” is directed by Lisa Hurwitz and stars Mel Brooks, with cameo remembrances by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Carl Reiner, Colin Powell and Elliot Gould. Starbucks Coffee founder Howard Schultz talks about how he was inspired to start his company because of Horn and Hardart.
The 100-year Automat saga serves up never before-seen archival footage and photographs and a cast including celebrity customers, company executives, historians, and members of the Horn & Hardart families who talk about America’s most beloved chain.
The film’s theme song, written in the Great American Songbook genre “(There Was Nothing Like The Coffee At the Automat”), was composed by comedian and writer Mel Brooks, who speaks with great affection about his days eating at the Automat. Brooks’ composer Hummie Mann is credited with writing the rest of the film’s score, which was done in the Gentleman’s Swing genre, and performed by a 26-piece orchestra.
“The Automat” taps into so many resonant aspects of what America used to be that to watch it is to be drawn into an enchanting and wistfully profound time-tripping reverie.” –Variety
Harbor Theater is at 185 Townsend Ave., in Boothbay Harbor. For more information about the theater and upcoming screenings visit https://boothbaycinema.org.