The Miss Albany Diner as we know it is gone.
Yes, there is still a Silk City diner at 893 Broadway in the city, as there has been since 1941. For many years it was Lil’s Diner, serving working people in Albany’s industrial North End in classic diner fashion. But beginning in 1988, the Brown family – Cliff Brown, wife Jane, and later son Bill – turned it into a diner destination, remembered for unique food items such as MAD Irish Toast and Cliff Brown’s diner wisdom, evident in signs hanging around the diner. (“When a child’s behavior draws the attention of other dining patrons, maybe an acting school would provide a better destination than public dining” reads one.)
The diner is now owned by the people who own Wolff’s Biergarten next door, and they are
not yet saying what they intend to do with the diner. Matt Baumgartner, one of the new owners, was quoted in Business Review : “I have zero interest in going into the diner business.” That’s not a good sign for those wanting to have breakfast in the diner again, even if it’s a generic Sysco breakfast rather than the Miss Albany’s signature fare.
As a lifelong Capital Region resident, I had always known the diner was there, just down Broadway from the rooftop Nipper, the RCA Dog. But it took me years to realize that this was a diner worth visiting. When I began reading Roadside Magazine and their Roadside Online web site in the mid 1990s, they featured diner reviews and advertising for many appealing diners in New England, Pennsylvania, and other places that would entail a considerable drive – and one diner near me, the Miss Albany.
Even so, it took a phone call from Cliff Brown to get things moving. I had just started the RoadsideFans e-mail group in 2001, and Cliff was perhaps surprised that there was a local diner enthusiast he had not yet met. So I made the first of many visits I would make over the next decade, sometimes not even ordering food but just chatting with Cliff about anything and everything diner-
related. I felt privileged when Cliff invited me through the diner’s swinging kitchen doors and down the narrow stairway leading into the diner’s basement, where he had his “executive suite” in a room barely bigger than a walk-in closet. Cliff also pointed out the place on the diner’s undercarriage where “4195” was painted on a beam – the diner’s Silk City serial number, the 95th diner made in 1941.
I enjoyed my visits, including one in 2002 on Cliff’s 75th birthday where a customer at the counter led an impromptu singing of “Happy Birthday.” But as the years went by, I could see age and infirmities take their toll on Cliff Brown, a decline not unlike the one I had seen with my own father. And running a diner is tough on a young man, to say nothing of a man in his 80s. Sometimes health problems kept Cliff away from the diner, so I would chat with Jane or Bill instead. I always regarded Cliff and the Miss Albany as “Great diner, Great diner owner” but amended that to “Great diner family.”
So it wasn’t entirely a surprise when the Browns put the Miss Albany up for sale in 2009. Bill Brown was doing a great job running the place, suggesting that the Miss Albany might be able to go on without Cliff. But when I suggested this to Bill, it was clear he had made up his mind and the Miss Albany Diner was not in his future.
Cliff Brown died November 1, 2010. The Miss Albany Diner served its last meal February 10, 2012. Mother and son Jane and Bill Brown now get to sleep late, travel, and enjoy life in a number of ways big and small that people on the other side of the diner counter have always taken for granted.
Thanks for the memories.