New York’s Forgotten Diners

by NYJ Team

Diners dot every borough of New York City, charming visitors and New Yorkers alike with their 24×7 schedule and menus where you can get breakfast at 11 PM or dinner at 6 AM. But how old is the American diner? In this guest post from Nadine Hallak  she explores the history and significance of the diner as well as samples some of finest options available in New York.

Late one night in 1872, Walter Scott rolled into the industrial district of Providence, Rhode Island, in a horse-drawn wagon with food for sale. By 1910, these wagons had lengthy counters, entrances at both ends, tiled floors, porcelain walls, and bathrooms. Many of these lunch wagons found permanent locations and became what we now call the diner.

Always open, with food that’s cheap and quick, the prevalence of NYC diners makes them a great way to explore the city. Work your way uptown from the Lower East Side and the South Street Seaport over to Chelsea and Greenwich Village. After a cultural journey through the Guggenheim Art Museum, take a load off by exploring the diners on the Upper East Side. For a more ‘historical’ experience, visit the Museum of Natural History west of Central park, and try the diners of the Upper West Side.

Tom’s, one of the city’s most famous diners, serves as a tourist destination in its own right. Does the name ring a bell? If you’re a US sitcom fan it might. Sitting pretty at 2880 Broadway on the corner of 112th Street in Morningside Heights, near Columbia University, Tom’s starred in TV sitcom’s Seinfeld as Monk’s Café. However, those who visit this particular diner may find the interior doesn’t match as Monk’s was a sound stage in Hollywood, but you can still get your picture taken out front and say you were on the show! ( FYI, I am 95% sure this is also the Tom’s Dinner from the Suzanne Vega song.)

Diners used to be a mainstay along the industrial district of 11th Avenue, between 37th and 49th Street. But, many have been torn down, and some have been moved to such diverse locations as the placid Catskills of upstate New York, and on out to the wilds of Wyoming County. For those sticking within Manhattan, here a few places to explore working your way uptown:

120 Essex Street (Lower East Side)
This little place is perfect for an early breakfast (or, if you’re rising a bit later, a quick brunch), before you explore the South Street Seaport, and take a look at (or walk across) the Brooklyn Bridge.

Big Daddy’s
239 Park Avenue South, between 19th Street & 20th Street (Gramercy Park)
Practically a landmark, it serves as a great stop between Greenwich Village and Chelsea. See below for the story behind this famous eatery.

Johny’s Luncheonette
124 W. 25th St, between 6th Avenue & 7th Avenue (Chelsea)
Head a bit north and west past Greenwich village to Chelsea and try a late breakfast, or early lunch.

Empire Diner
10th Avenue and 22nd Street (Chelsea)
Trimmed in chrome, white and red, you’ll recognize it by its sign replicating the Empire State Building. You can sit outside when the weather’s reasonable.

Cheyenne Diner
9th Avenue and West 33rd Street (Midtown)
From the 1940s, this diner, trimmed in black, white, and chrome, sits near Penn Station, across from the postal complex. The burgers are ‘drool’ worthy.

The Upper East Side and Upper West Side will take a few days at the least to explore with all the museums and galleries and the close access to all the joys of Central Park.
– Green Kitchen (1477 First Avenue at 77th Street) is spacious and clean — try a Panini
– Three Star Diner, at 76th Street and First Avenue, has quite a few griddle specialties
– Gracie’s Corner, at 86th Street and First Avenue, is a neighbourhood fixture; portions are huge
– Gracie Mews Diner, 1560 First Avenue, at 81st Street, has outdoor seating when weather permits
– EJ ‘s Luncheonette, 73rd Street and Third Avenue, is themed after the 1950s with blue/white vinyl booths — ask for the Blue Plate Special

The first Big Daddy’s Restaurant opened way back in 1964, out on Coney Island Avenue in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. Now it has three locations across the city. It’s open 24 hours a day serving giant salads, burgers, and, of course, breakfast at all hours. It also offers outdoor seating in the spring and summer.

1596 2nd Avenue

2454 Broadway

All of these diners tend to be very busy around noon both on weekends and weekdays, so avoid arriving between 11 AM and 2 PM.

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