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: