In New York City, where office buildings and apartment complexes jet into the sky, a stand-alone diner is a rare sight to come by. Their vintage storefronts and neon lights easily stand out amongst the industrial gray that’s so characteristic of the city, but they’ve become quite the novelty over the years.
To clear room for real estate development, many establishments have been forced to shut down, as evidenced by the recent closure of Market Diner in Hell’s Kitchen (Moondance, Cheyenne and the Lost Diner have also disappeared over the years). So when Empire Diner, located on the corner of 22nd St. and 10th Avenue, covered up its windows in 2015, it seemed like New York City had lost yet another classic, all-American eatery. That was before we learned about its comeback in November. With the good news came a small glimmer of hope that the stand-alone diner would continue to remain a fixture on New York City streets. Here are 10 you can still visit:
1. Square Diner
Ironically, Square Diner at 33 Leonard St., is actually in the shape of a triangle. This tiny, 1,000-square-foot stand-alone diner dates all the way back to the 1920s although it took the form of a wooden shack at the time. The train-car itself was made by Pullman Dining Car Company of New Jersey in the 1940s, but Square Diner as we know it today dates back to 1945. Inside its familiar blue, chrome fitted exterior, you’ll find red vinyl booths, wood-paneled walls decorated with pictures of celebrities, and a menu of Greek and American fare.
2. Hector’s Cafe & Diner
Sitting under the High Line in the Meatpacking District, Hector’s Cafe & Diner is the go-to spot for all-day breakfast and Italian dishes. Located at 44 Little W 12th St., the stand-alone diner first opened in its doors in 1949, where it served employees coming to work in the meatpacking plants. To cater to the clientele at the time, Hector’s would open at 2 a.m. in preparation for the 4 a.m. wave.
Although the remaining meatpacking plants have since closed – only to be replaced by expensive new restaurants and chic stores – the establishment has remained opened because the physical building is owned by the city, which means the rent is more moderately priced. To this day, it still opens at 2 a.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays.
3. Empire Diner
The Empire Diner, known for its black and white chrome exterior, was built by Fodero Dining Car Company in 1946. After closing its doors in the early 1970s, the stand-alone diner was brought back to life by owners Jack Doenias, Carl Laanes, and Richard Ruskay in 1976. Due in part to its iconic facade, the diner became immensely popular and went on to appear in many films.
It served an important role in the Chelsea Renaissance and remained in business for 34 years, until the landlords of the property refused to renew the lease in 2010. The restaurant later re-opened (and shut down) twice: first as The Highliner in 2012, and then again in 2014, under the management of Chopped chef Amanda Frietag. It reopened again in the last year.
4. Pearl Diner
Pearl Diner, located on 212 Pearl Street in the Financial District, looks vastly out of place next to the buildings around it. The tiny stand-alone diner has been around since the early 1960s and still serves affordable breakfast specials, burgers and homemade soup. Although it did close down for a bit after Hurricane Sandy, Pearl Diner remains a local favorite, complete with its iconic neon signage and metal bar stools. Even as the office building behind it went up in the early 1970’s, it still claimed its spot on the corner of Pearl and Fletcher Street.
5. Star on 18 Diner
Star on 18, on 128 10th Ave., might not look like your typical stand-alone diner from the outside, but enter through its doors and you’ll find all the basics, including rows of booths, stools and a counter. Visitors strolling along the High Line frequently drop by for its Mediterranean dinners, which are offered alongside the standard American diner fare.
6. Neptune Diner
Astoria is full of Greek and Italian restaurants, and Neptune Diner, on 3105 Astoria Blvd, is a classic example of a 24/7 local-favorite. Voted best diner in Queens by the Daily News, this “ultimate Greek” establishment serves excellent lamb and chicken gyro platters alongside American staples, like burgers and turkey clubs. Dessert options, which are displayed in cases, also reportedly taste better than you’d expect them to taste.
7. Colonnade Diner
Since it was built in 1975, Colonnade Diner, on 2001 Hylan Blvd., has served Staten Island’s for over forty years. At the time, the United States was preparing for a Bicentennial celebration and Colonnade Diner – once nicknamed “The Disco Diner” in reference to Hylan Boulevard’s many clubs and discos – became one of the first mega diners on Staten Island. Late nighters would often drop by for a meal or continue their party with the jukebox. Today, this 24-hour “veteran option” is still run by the Platis family.
8. Bel Aire Diner
Bel Aire Diner, on 31-91 21st St. in Astoria, is open 24 hours a day. It is owned and operated by Argyris “Archie” Dellaportas, who immigrated to Queens in 1972. Over the years, he’s worked at several diners, including the Westway Diner in Hell’s Kitchen and a diner in Maryland; in 1996, however, he purchased the Bel Aire for $350,000 and since then, he hasn’t taken time off for vacation. His hard work is one of the reasons why
9. Jackson Hole
Jackson Hole on Astoria Boulevard
You’ll find Jackson Hole in several places around New York (there’s also one in NJ). Established in 1972, the family run business is best known for its 7 oz. burgers, made from a special blend of house-aged beef. All establishments are operated with an open kitchen so patrons can see their food being prepared. Alongside 50 specialty style burgers and chicken sandwiches, Jackson Hole also offers a variety of Tex-Mex dishes, breakfast options and vegetarian meals.
10. Kellogg’s Diner
As a longtime Williamsburg favorite since 1973, Kellogg’s diner has become the go-to greasy spoon thanks to its 24-hour menu. Located on 518 Metropolitan Ave. in Brooklyn, the stand-alone diner received a makeover in 2008, following its 35th anniversary. For locals who were used to its familiar facade, the change was almost “too new.” It now boasts a shiny chrome exterior, a full bar and a new sign.
11. Goodfellas Diner
The Goodfellas Diner, also known as Clinton Diner, in Maspeth, Queens is a popular film location, seen in shows like Homeland, Master of None, The Good Wife, and of course, the movie Goodfellas. Its distinctive awning, now in blue, strikes a nice vintage note – even though it is surrounded by warehouses and industrial spaces. Goodfellas was severely damaged in a fire and has been used as a vehicle parking lot since then.