Having their food displayed in the ultimate transparency was another reason why these cafeterias defined dining democracy. Also, no one forced you to say “Caffe Tall” when what you really wanted was a small cup of coffee. Nor were you made to hand over your money first and then stand around waiting for someone to pull you a cup of java as if it were as labor-intensive as tuning a carburetor. No, you picked up a mug—not cardboard, but real china, heavy enough to break a toe if dropped—and placed it under a marvelous lion’s-head-shaped spout. You dropped in some nickels (OK, it would now be many quarters), pulled a metal crank from left to right, and coffee or cocoa would rush out as if from a Roman fountain.

Photograph by John Eder

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This is the perfect formula to get our juices going again and rekindle New York’s economic engines as we pull away from a long, bleak downturn. Speaking of perfect formulas, anyone for an Orange Julius?

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