American diners are neon-lit time capsules of architecture and design. They are the ’57 Ford Thunderbird of restaurants, shaping post-war optimism and far too much metal into something beautiful and quintessentially American. Best of all, you can still find plenty of little diners doing what they have always done, among the rising skylines and property values of New York City.
High Line walkers may already know the Empire Diner, a beautiful restaurant that was built in 1946 and faced an up-and-down history ever since. In only the latest chapter of its history, the diner closed in 2010 then was reopened under the leadership of Food Network’s Amanda Freitag with restoration undertaken by Groundswell Design Group.
The Empire Diner’s interior is maybe even more gorgeous than the classic exterior, and we can never turn down a good reflection photo.
Images courtesy of Groundswell Design Group
Image © Mitch Altman
You can find the Tick Tock Diner’s colorful neon right outside Penn Station. Tick Tock has a much more traditional diner menu than Freitag’s Empire Diner, made up of six pages of omelettes, pancakes, burgers and shakes. The Midtown Tick Tock is actually a second location for the diner, whose original spot was along New Jersey Route 3 in 1948. The NYC spot may not be a true piece of history, but they serve breakfast all day, so: You win some, you lose some.
Image © Doug Letterman
The Market Diner is now open again, but it is perhaps most famous for being an intriguing and sad Hell’s Kitchen landmark kept behind chain-link fence for a number of years. Formerly a hangout spot for Sinatra, the Market Diner’s zig-zag roof was a sight to see even during its lowest days, as in the photo above. Now, the spot is open 24 hours and serving classic, greasy diner food, and the neighborhood is happy for it.
Image © Only Living Girl in New York
Image © Food Group
Williamsburg’s Broadway Diner actually opened in 1998, but as you can see, it was opened in a Kullman car from the 1920s, effectively transplanting a historic little building right down in Brooklyn. If opening a new restaurant in a 1920s dining car rings false to some of you, consider that even 1998 is ancient history by Williamsburg standards. And the architecture is a time capsule without a doubt, even if the kale salads they serve inside might not be historically accurate.
Image © Diner
Image © Mark Hogan
Kellogg’s Diner is another Williamsburg destination, with a history that’s more or less the opposite of the Broadway Diner. Kellogg’s claims to have been around in one form or another in Williamsburg since 1928, and it was the source of some scandal when the building was renovated in 2008. The exterior was chromed over and given a new sign, while the interior came to house a live lobster tank and a full bar. It’s up to you whether this diner is more architecturally interesting than the tiny ’20s dining car or not.
Image via Foursquare
Image © Brooklyn Diner
Unlike the previous two entries on this list, Brooklyn Diner has two locations but neither is in Brooklyn. Brooklyn Diner is more of a typical waiting list and maitre d’ Manhattan restaurant with a diner theme than anything truly historic, but the ambience and look are too perfect to pass up.
Image © Certified Construction
Image © sushipumpum
Hudson View Diner
This diner doesn’t appear to exist any more, and isn’t that a shame? This photo from 1990 shows what is almost the romantic ideal of New York diners: A shabby little place with a broken sign that despite all appearances could easily contain the best burger you’ve ever tasted. And if that din_r happens to be within _ie_ of the _udson, all the better.