The New York City Diner…they enjoyed some wonderful “glory days” in the history of the city. I’m not speaking here of any one Diner in particular, but more of the institution , and a great institution they were. I say they were, past tense, because sadly, in comparison, not many remain.
For quite the long run, the Diner culture was THE eating culture in New York, and although those said glory days have passed into the realm of memory, the iconic “greasy spoon” has a place in my heart forever. They were comfort places….they were convenient and relatively easy to get into at anytime of day or night.
It’s 2am and can’t sleep? take a walk down to the diner and grab some coffee and maybe a piece of apple pie. Feel a bit lonely and down? There will always be someone at the counter to chat with you as you sip your coffee, and, if there are no patrons, the waitress behind the counter will lend an ear. Ah, and the aroma as you enter! A combination of french fries and homemade baked goods. The coffee was always hot and there was always a seat at the counter.
Have to start work or school at an ungodly early hour? You’ll find many fellow New Yorkers in the same situation. The cop, starting his beat, the construction worker, getting a big breakfast in him before a tough day… and, of course ,those who had a bit too much to drink the night before and in need of some real food before going home.
I loved the round stools at the counter and the plastic covered trays of donuts, cakes and fresh pies. If you wanted to sit at a table, you had your own table top juke box to play some tunes while you waited for your food. These are be some of the songs you would be sure to find:
Poetry In Motion-Johnny Tillotson
It’s My Party-Lesley Gore
Blue Moon-The Marcels
Saturday Night At the Movies-The Drifters
Shout: Joey Dee and the Star-liters
Wipe-out: the Sarfaries
Western Movies-The Olympics
Baby (You’ve Got What It Takes)-Brook Benton
Walk Don’t Run-The Ventures
Good Golly Miss Molly-Little Richard
The Boy from New York City-The Ad Libs …..
And the memories just keep on coming!
Sit at a window seat and watch the city come alive at 4 am, or take the same seat at midnight and behold the “city that never sleeps”.
As mentioned, they were comfort places. One felt at home there. No pretense, no false bravado, no need to be anyone other than who you are. One never felt uncomfortable eating alone at a Diner. Just grab a seat at the counter with all the others eating alone, and suddenly…. you were with friends .
Everyone had their favorite Diner and would frequent it religiously. You knew the waitress and most likely the cook. Chances are the owner would be present 24/7, ever-present , prowling the floor making sure orders were up quickly and delivered hot.Many times they doubled as cook and host/ hostess.
The Diner I spent most of my time at was owned by a Greek family, and they absolutely worked their butts off. It resulted in a great overall experience “hanging out” at their place. The Moussaka and Gyros were to die for, and in typical Diner fashion, one could get almost anything one was in the mood for. Their hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, potatoes/ onions and toast was served all day/all night. There was no charge for unlimited coffee refills and you never felt rushed. It was open 24 hours a day and I think they only closed for Christmas and Easter. That’s another great feature of the Diner, you could always count on them to be there for you. The Diner captured the essence of the city , the diversity of its people and the scope of its ethnicity .
When friends gathered and one would say: “Hey, you want to go to the Diner?”.. heads would nod, and a smile would appear.. it was warm and safe and welcoming…. kinda like the kitchen at your mom’s house.
I miss the real life Diners of my youth and I mourn their passing.