Featuring testimonials from a slew of esteemed former customers, this fascinating doc delves deep into America’s most iconic automat restaurant chain, Philadelphia-born Horn & Hardart.
Before there was fast food as we know it, there was Horn & Hardart, a beloved chain that was much more than a place for cheap eats. As filmmaker Lisa Hurwitz demonstrates in this valuable documentary, these restaurants formed a vital part of America’s social fabric in the first half of the 20th Century. Opening its first location on Chestnut Street in Philly in 1902, Horn & Hardart was the first stateside example of a European-style automat, a restaurant in which coin-operated vending machines offered everything from baked beans and macaroni to Salisbury steak and a mouth-watering array of pies (and, of course, coffee). Eventually expanding to New York City, Horn & Hardart became a cultural phenomenon and an institution, attracting customers from diverse backgrounds with its democratic combination of pocket-friendly cuisine and gleaming, aspirational design. In addition to informative interviews with historians and experts, Hurwitz includes a bevy of recollections from luminaries including Mel Brooks, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and former Philadelphia mayor Wilson Goode, who share their memories of frequenting automats and their personal insights into the ways that these nearly forgotten establishments helped shape everyday American life.
In Competition: Pinkenson Local Feature
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