As 2014 begins, several vintage diners have recently reopened under new management, representing an interesting cross-section of diner styles, manufacturers, and degrees of preservation. We haven’t visited any of these diners yet under their present ownership, so we can’t offer any opinions on food or service. If you visit any of these diners, please let us know about your experiences.
Empire Diner, 210 10th Avenue, New York, NY
New York City’s Empire Diner has to be one of the most interesting diner preservation stories of all time. A 1940s Fodero diner sited in the Chelsea neighborhood, it received a partial façade makeover in the 1950s, masking the diner’s original roofline. But a more extensive renovation in 1976 received much more attention, including a cover story in New York magazine.
The red bands on the 1950s upper façade were repainted black and white (greatly improving the diner’s appearance, in my view), EAT was painted on the wall of an adjacent building in lettering matching that on the diner, and a skyscraper model was installed on the roof corner. The inside was modified in ways that ordinarily would make a diner purist cringe – the ceiling was painted black, track lights were added, and the table tops were overlaid with black Plexiglass. Nonetheless, the diner was a hit with the public and well-received within the diner enthusiast community as well, as evidenced by the fact that renowned diner artist John Baeder did a painting of the renovated Empire.
All was well until 2010 when things turned ugly, to say the least. Proprietor Renate Gonzalez was evicted and the diner was leased to a new operator. A fight ensued over the name Empire Diner, resulting in the new operator using the name Highliner Diner. The skyscraper model on the roof went missing. The interior was renovated, including the addition of a communal table. But the Highliner didn’t have all that long a life, closing at the end of 2012.
Now reopened under “celebrity chef” Amanda Frietag, the Empire has received another round of renovations. The ceiling is now white, probably a more appropriate color for a diner ceiling than black. There’s new booths and stools with backs, and it looks like the counter is shorter than it once was. But the Fodero winged clock is still there, and plans are to resume 24 hour operation once again.
Salem Diner, 70 1/2 Loring Avenue, Salem, Massachusetts
The Salem Diner is one of only two Sterling Streamliners still operating (the Modern Diner in Pawtucket, RI is the other one.) Recently acquired by Salem State University, the diner is operated by Chartwells, its food service operator. A similar arrangement exists at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where two diners – the Streamliner (Worcester) and Bobbie’s Diner (Mountain View) – are operated by the college’s food service operator.
Regular diner hours are Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Those 8 to 11 nighttime hours seem geared toward students needing a late night snack.
Izzy’s Diner and Pizza (formerly Miss Adams Diner), 53 Park Street, Adams, MA
The Miss Adams Diner, Worcester Lunch Car number 821, was delivered to Adams in 1949, replacing an older diner (still in use as Claudette’s 1921 Diner in Boylston, MA.) The diner received much favorable attention in the 1990s under the ownership of Barry and Nancy Garton (who today operate Brew Ha Ha in North Adams), but after they left, ownership of the diner was assumed by Boston restaurateur Jae Chung who leased the diner to a long succession of tenants, none of whom seemed to last very long. Then in 2005 – wrongly surmising the building was the problem – Chung undertook a “remodeling” which consisted of covering the original Worcester Lunch Car woodwork with shiny metal and stapling records to the ceiling, giving the place an artificial “retro 1950s” look. (One might say that with a 1949 Worcester Lunch Car they already had the real thing.)
By 2010 Chung had lost ownership of the diner and Steepleview Realty leased it to Philomene and Ric Belair, who ultimately were unable to come to terms to purchase the diner. Today, Izzy’s Diner and Pizza operates out of the old Miss Adams, run by Rick “Izzy” Solomon and Annmarie Belmonte. It’s the second time behind that marble counter for Belmonte – she was the last person to operate the Miss Adams under Chung’s ownership. And if a pizza joint isn’t your idea of the best use of a diner, take heart in the fact that meatloaf and lumberjack breakfast sandwiches are among the best sellers. They are even open for dinner, rare for a diner in New England!
Parkway Diner, 1696 Williston Road, South Burlington, Vermont
Due to a lease issue, this diner dropped out of the orbit of northern Vermont diner mogul William Maglaris (who had renamed it the Arcadia Diner.) It’s the Parkway Diner again, now operated by Corey Gottfried. This diner highly impressed me on my one visit in 2012 - even with the Arcadia name. Manufactured near the end of the Worcester Lunch Car Company’s long run (# 839), this diner sports stainless steel trim on the outside – an attempt to keep up with the New Jersey manufacturers – but inside, there’s still varnished wood trim and cooking behind the counter.
The Diner (formerly Sullivan’s Diner), 59 Old Ithaca Road, Horseheads, NY
The Irish name Sullivan fit well with the original green tile and trim of this 1940s Silk City diner. So, what happens when the diner is taken over by a Yankees fan – one who wants to put his mark on the place? Sullivan green gives way to Yankees blue, and original Silk City tile work on the counter and floor is lost. The two views below show how Sullivan’s looked in 2008. Now, click here to see some photos of how it looks now.
Katz Club Diner, 1975 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights, Ohio
If one vintage diner is good, then two have to be better, right? You might want to consider the history of this diner pair in Cleveland Heights before answering. Originally the Zephyr Diner (O’Mahony) from Berwick, Pennsylvania and the Terminal Diner (Mountain View) from Atlantic City, both diners received a meticulous restoration at Steve Harwin’s Diversified Diners before opening in Cleveland Heights as Dottie’s Diner and the Sweet City Diner. By the time of my visit in 2006, ownership had changed and they were Chris’ Diner and Jimmy’s Diner. Next it was Clyde’s Bistro, and the interior of the Mountain View was gutted. Now the Katz Club Diner, the O’Mahony has received some renovations that take it farther away from its original O’Mahony look, covering the original terrazzo floor with tile and replacing the booths with tables. Here’s two views of the O’Mahony from 2006 (when it was Chris’ Diner). Now, click here for a news article with a picture of how the interior looks now.