An Automat was a phenomenon of the 1920s through the 1950s, as far as I can tell. It was a restaurant of sorts, where instead of staff, there were an assortment of vending machines (which were usually tended from behind, like a modern ATM). They appear to have traded on the American passion for 'efficiency' and speed that permeated the culture (and still does in other ways) at that time. They gradually faded out; I'm not sure why, although it seems clear to me that the isolation from other humans that these institutions fomented may have been partly to blame.

Along those lines, Automat is also the title of a painting by Edward Hopper. In it, a lone woman sits at a table in a restaurant with a cup in her hands. Visible behind her, through a plate-glass window, is a series of overhead lamps (streetlights?) marching off into the dark. She has with her some packages, likely from shopping. No other people are visible as she sits gazing almost blankly at her cup. For me, this picture is the best visual representation of my depression I've ever found. It hangs in my living room (well, a replica does, duh).

Some actual Automat restaurants hung on in mid-Manhattan, New York City up into the 1970s and perhaps even early 1980s. One of the original Automat buildings is still visible around 102nd st. and Broadway, now containing a variety of retail stores.

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