Our annual summer sabbatical this year started in NYC. Each year when we spend time in Manhattan, we try and give the kids a taste of what real New Yorkers do. Yes we are technically tourists but since NYC was our home for so many years, we can be both tourist and New Yorker all at the same time. We want our kids to be more New Yorker than typical tourist so we do our best to show them how a real New Yorker lives, how they get around town, where they eat, shop and what they complain about.
We left our hotel the first morning and started walking, not sure where but searching for a breakfast spot. Back in my day, living in Manhattan, you couldn’t walk one whole block and not pass a diner. Well we walked and walked. Ended up going up a few blocks - over a couple of avenues - back down a few blocks and finally came across a typical NY coffee shop.
It occurred to us as we were walking with the kids that the diners were becoming a thing of the past. On the avenues, many brownstone style buildings were being replaced with more and more high rise buildings with sky rocketing rents that seemed to be inhabited by more upscale trendy restaurants. There always seemed to be a ton of tall buildings and expensive restaurants no doubt, but that NYC character is what was noticeably missing.
For Keith and I, the diner holds a lot of history. We had our first daytime date in a diner in Midtown. (which we ended up walking by this very same day and seeing a for rent sign in the window) We had many very late night greasy bacon cheese burgers delivered (yes, pre vegetarian days!) and many mornings eating Feta Omelettes and drinking endless cups of diner coffee, meeting friends, reading the paper, just a part of every day life.
And now here we were trying to explain to our kids why we were sad to see the diner experience fading. Over the years, I’ve sensed that the kids don’t find the diner as charming as we do. A sign of the times? But it is one of those things. Like sitting and drinking coffee in an actual cup, not counting the calories in your greasy breakfast, enjoying the personalities that worked in these diners as well as those that frequented them.
When we returned to Phoenix after our month away, I googled the phrase “disappearing NY diners”. After all, was it just me or had anyone else noticed??? Was anyone else concerned or worried? An article in the NY Times laid it all out really well but even better was this in depth article on Grub Street that gives a history lesson on the NY diner through words and photographs.
The diner + old style coffeeshop are just an example of things dying off right in front of us. We don’t notice at first - but then when we start to look around we lament about what is gone. These spots were great equalizers. I’m sad to see them go.
John’s Coffee Shop 825 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10017