One of the only things I liked about growing up in New Jersey, and one of my favorite things about living in New York, was the ubiquity of diners. I have been a regular at many of them over the years. Whether they are in the original rail car-style shape, of the stone-faced mid-century variety, or in the more expansive multi-room form of the 80s and 90s, there is something uniformly familiar and inviting about them. I feel comfort, security, and joy wherever and whenever I see them.
Almost a decade ago, my high school friends, Jenny and Jennie, and I planned a drive around North Jersey to visit the oldest remaining diners in the area.
It was a day filled with beauty: stainless steel, milk glass, neon, Formica, and pastel table-top jukeboxes.
Also, indigestion. I discovered you should really only eat a diner breakfast once per day at the absolute maximum.
Since I got back to town in January this year, we’ve relaunched the diner tour concept and expanded to luncheonettes, coffee shops, soda fountains, delicatessens, and other very old, fast, and cheap food joints. We’ve also become far less stringent about what we eat in these places – sometimes a coffee will suffice. The point is not the food but rather to absorb the ambience and energy of places that have been communal cozy gathering spots for decades.
Diners are falling like flies these days, an allegory for the death of both affordable and soulful New York. It feels really important for me to get to as many of them as possible in the time that they have left.
So far, we’ve done the Northern New Jersey diner tour, a Bronx / Manhattan diner tour, a Brooklyn / Queens diner tour, a Staten Island diner tour, and a lower Manhattan diner tour, and I’ve also visited a bunch in my solo wanderings. Here is a photographic compendium:
Bendix Diner, Hasbrouck Heights, NJ
Crossroads Diner, Belvidere, NJ
*In looking up the location of this diner I’ve just read that it’s been closed. Tragic! It was a floor to ceiling all-green Art Deco dream. 😦
Harris Diner, East Orange, NJ
*OMG, this one has also closed! Is there no decency in this world???
Max’s Grill, in Harrison, NJ, was opened around 1927, making it the oldest diner in New Jersey. It was already definitively closed when we visited. Note the “for sale” sign in the window.
*I’ve just read a 2010 article that says it was due to be demolished as there were no buyers. I can’t find any evidence online of it’s having been saved, and on Flickr, a 7 year-old comment says, “Unfortunately, this Diner has been torn down & replaced by a couple of high rise buildings with stores on the ground level. Someone had told me that the owner of the property offered it for free to anyone that would remove it from his land so that he could build there.” I am bereft. THIS IS GETTING VERY UNEXPECTEDLY DEPRESSING.
Summit Diner, Summit, NJ
*Oh thank God, this one is still open. It happened to be closed for the day when we visited nine years ago (I took photos through the window). We will have to try again one day, before it closes forever and breaks another little piece of my heart.
White Manna, Hackensack, NJ
*Yes, this one is still open, too, thank goodness. Its loss would be immeasurably sad.
Now on to more recently visited diners, all of which are – to my knowledge – still open except for poor Cafe Edison (below), which closed in December of 2014 the weekend after I finally made it there. I guess the cusp of 2015 is not actually that recent…
The rest of these are from 2018 visits so I assume they are still open, even though if I’ve learned anything while writing this post, it’s that you can’t assume a thing when it comes to counting on people to preserve historic and beloved establishments.
Fine & Schapiro, a classic Jewish deli on the Upper West Side
Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop, very close to Gramercy Park
Kanes Diner, Flushing, Queens
Tibbett Diner, Riverdale, Bronx
Liebman’s Deli, Riverdale, Bronx
Eddie’s Sweet Shop, Forest Hills, Queens
Lindenwood Diner, Brooklyn
Roll N Roaster, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn
Mike’s Unicorn Diner, Staten Island
Pearl Diner, Financial District
(Less than a week after our visit, I spotted the diner in a long scene in Vox Lux. Exciting!)
Square Diner, Tribeca – and the Cherry Hill girls – Jennie, Jenny, and Simona, who joined us for our fifth and most recent tour. Twenty-five years ago you could have found us together at my all-time favorite diner, Ponzio’s, sipping bottomless cups of 50-cent coffee.
Other awesome spots that I and/or we have visited in the past few years but that I didn’t take good or any photos of – all worth visiting sooner rather than later, for reasons made obvious by this post:
Lexington Candy Shop
Cozy Soup n Burger
Old John’s Luncheonette
John’s Coffee Shop
B & H Dairy
Tom’s Restaurant (Morningside Heights)
Tom’s (Prospect Heights)
Apologies for any distress this post may have caused. Loving diners is a painful thing.