NYC’s Iconic Empire Diner in Chelsea Will Re-Open Again in November

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In 2015, Empire Diner, the iconic dining establishment in Chelsea, shut down after its second failed attempt at revival. The windows of the restaurant are now covered in paper, but it’s slated to return under new management in November. On Monday, we saw the doors open briefly with some activity inside, and we attended the liquor license hearing yesterday to get more details on the new iteration.

After 34 years of business, the original Empire Diner shut down in May 2010, when the landlords of the property refused to renew the lease. At the time, the establishment had become the “latest hangout [for] artists, starving and otherwise,” as reported by The New Yorker, and the classic rail car style diner became a poster child of the preservation movement to save the city’s vintage diners.

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In 2012,
 the owners of Coffee Shop in Union Square bought the space and opened The Highliner, which took on ‘pretty much the same form” as the original Empire Diner, except with a ‘Coffee Shop flavor,” said owner Carolyn Benitez in 2009. Despite the tweaked menu and the staff’s dedication to serving food around the clock, the establishment didn’t make it past its first year. 

When Chopped star, Amanda Frietag, took over the space in January 2014, she offered her own reinterpretation of traditional comfort food – from the classic reuben sandwich (Empire Reuben) to buttermilk pancakes. Although she stepped away from the kitchen in July 2015, she remained a co-owner of the restaurant prior to its closure in 2015. According to TMZ, Empire Diner had been months behind in rent, and was faced with the threat of eviction.

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Today, Empire Diner, located on the corner of 22nd St. and 10th Avenue, is one of the last free-standing diner spaces left in Manhattan. And their numbers are declining – last year we saw the closure of the Market Diner in Hell’s Kitchen to prepare for demolition and redevelopment.

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Aside from new hours (it will now stay open until 2am) and brighter, more “friendly” decor, not much will change when the new Empire Diner returns with John DeLucie as chef. The diner will operate under the company 210 Empire LLC, a New York State limited liability company formed in February of this year. 210 refers to the address of the diner, 210 10th Avenue. Expect the same outdoor seating and another iteration of the classic all-American diner menu. DeLucie also tells us that because the exterior is a landmark, there will be no changes to the outside structure of the Empire Diner.

Next check out more vintage diners Saving NYC’s Vintage Diners and take a look at vintage photos of NYC’s diners in the 1990s. Keep up with the author @heysuehey.

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