Untapped New York took a trip to the Empire Diner, a month after it closed. Brooklyn-based writer Amanda Chatel and our photographer for this post reports that it looked “sad and desolate. The boarded up windows made it feel cold and lonely. The liveliness and energy was gone. And the worst part was there were all these tourists walking by (because the High Line is right there) and they weren’t even aware of what the Empire Diner represented and how the neighborhood lost a bit of color the day it closed.” Even more tragic was that it closed because the landlords wouldn’t renew the lease, not because it was out of business.
The original diner was built in 1946 in a New Jersey factory by Fodero Dining Car Company, founded by immigrant Joseph Fodero. The diner closed in 1976 and was saved by three New Yorkers: Jack Doenias, Carl Laanes, and Richard Ruskay, who renovated the diner. Its signature stainless steel faÃ§ade, black and chrome trim and art deco logo, remained an architectural staple, even as the Chelsea and the Meatpacking districts transformed dramatically. In 1998, The New Yorker proclaimed it the “latest hangout [for] artists, starving and otherwise.” The iconic diner was featured in Woody Allen’s “Manhattan,” “Men in Black,” the Billy Joel song “Great Wall of China,” and Bette Davis reportedly proclaimed it to be her favorite diner. Its clientele has always ranged from the quotidian to the rich and famous, representing the physical juxtaposition of social classes that can be New York. John Gray, previously a writer for Knight-Ridder, described The Empire in 1995 as a “place of glam and ham,” a place he fell in love with not for “just its food, but the way it captures the serendipitous excitement of a city where anything can happen.”
- Photograph Amanda Chatel for Untapped Cities
The current owners are looking for new locations for the diner and are open to suggestions in New York and anywhere around the globe. The vacancy left will be replaced by another, probably banal looking restaurant or glass store. The Empire Diner website is still up and you can read their blog and shop their apparel shop at https://www.empire-diner.com/. From a photographic perspective, I was intrigued (but not surprised) by how many photographs in Flickr people took of themselves in the Empire Diner, rather than of the building itself. I think this simply demonstrates the diner’s landmark and iconic status in New York.
How to Get There:
210 10th Avenue, at the corner with West 22nd Street
C or E train to the 23rd Street