Hector’s Cafe & Diner located at 44 Little West 12th Street
Look familiar? Hector’s Diner was where all the diner scenes for Taxi Driver starring Robert DeNiro were filmed and where many of the Law & Order episodes were shot. It looks synonymous with the old New York we know and love in the Meatpacking District. Yet it sits nestled under the High Line, surrounded by chic boutiques and expensive eateries, a stone’s throw from The Standard Hotel.
In the 1930s the meatpacking plants in this district producted one-third of our nation’s meats. Hector’s originally opened at 2am to serve the plant employees coming to work. Although the last of the meatpacking plants closed last year, they continue to open at 2am and close at 10pm Monday through Thursday. Hector has long since left the building. Dionisios Manesis bought the diner in 1988. He’s kept the name and this little piece of old New York as authentic as he can, serving up specialities ranging from pancakes and omelettes to burgers, fries and root beer floats—the kind of food Law & Order detectives can sink their teeth into between stakeouts.
Manesis has seen a lot of changes in the time he’s owned the little diner. In an article written by Jermiah’s Vanishing New York last year, he talks about how he used to be able to go next door to buy his hamburger meat. Rents were easy to come by 15 years ago “but today you can’t find anything under $25,000 a month.” Luckily, Hector’s Cafe & Diner is in a city-owned building where rents are more moderate. When Taxi Driver and early episodes of Law & Order were filmed, the Meatpacking District was still gritty and crime-ridden, but not anymore.
You’ll find all kinds of people sitting on the comfortable padded counter stools and shiny tables and chairs, from tourists coming down the steps of the High Line to locals and the vast array of workmen engaged in an endless stream of construction projects. Manesis was pleased to tell me that they have extended their weekend hours and are now open 24 hours from Thursday through Saturday. What’s good? He will tell you everything, but try the greek salad. Cash only. A real piece of old New York.