Bamn! Automat

I was shocked and awed by the sight outside my taxi window.

An automat! Restyled for 2006! It was exciting! No wonder they put an exclamation point in the name! I never got to dine at the last New York automat, which closed down in 1991. Now I would finally get to experience automatic food in person. I vowed to come back some other time when there were fewer skateboarders loitering outside.

One of the guys who started Bamn!, David Leong, left, traveled the world and apparently ate a lot of junk food on the way. He brought his fast food ideas back to New York and mixed them up here. On the menu are the expected munchies like chicken nuggets and mozzarella sticks, but there are a few twists. Hot dogs are wrapped in puff pastry like overgrown pigs-in-a-blanket, the burgers are dressed with teriyaki sauce, and mac 'n' cheese is shaped into cylindrical form, breaded and deep fried to become a mac 'n' cheese kroket, an American spin on Dutch street food. This is perhaps the most brilliant of Bamn's inventions - mac 'n' cheese that's actually portable. Good news for bar hoppers: now you can eat and booze your way through the East Village at the same time!

The only real drawback is that for some reason, automats attract crazy people. There are no doors on this place, so the mentally unbalanced who might normally be deterred by a door have no such obstacle to just wandering in. The change machines (you need quarters to buy the food here) may remind the local homeless population of a row of Coin Stars. At any rate, everyone feels welcome here. A young woman announces to David Leong, who is safely barricaded behind a counter: "What will you make for me? Nothing deep fried. I'm a nutritionist!" She pirouettes, then says that she would consider eating the spam musubo. Moments later, an older lady squawks loudly, unable to figure out how to operate the automated doors. Note the unironic cat photo on her overstuffed bag.

Never fear: for the rest of us, the automat is easy. You just put your change in, pull open a door, and take out your peanut butter and jelly empanada, NY grilled cheese, pizza dumplings, or whatever else the guys at Bamn! Automat can dish out.

Bamn! Automat
37 St. Mark's Place, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues