Metro Diner on Broadway and 100th Street
6sqft’s series The Urban Lens invites photographers to share work exploring a theme or a place within New York City. In this installment, Riley Arthur documents NYC’s vanishing diners. Are you a photographer who’d like to see your work featured on The Urban Lens? Get in touch with us at [email protected].
“There’s no comparison to a New York diner experience,” says photographer Riley Arthur, which is what led her to start documenting all of the establishments throughout the five boroughs. Though she recently moved from Astoria to Florida, over the past two-and-a-half years she’s photographed roughly 215 diners (“I’ve lost count,” she says), usually hitting 10-12 a day and ordering a matzo ball soup at each! Since she began, at least a dozen diners have closed, usually due to rising rents, but Riley still has about 60 left to photograph. She shares her journey on the popular Instagram account Diners of NYC, where you’ll see everything from the faux-stone and shiny metal facades to the greasy bacon and eggs to the massive plastic menus to the neon signs and leather banquettes. Riley shared a set of her snapshots with 6sqft and filled us in on her process and favorite spots.
What inspired you to start Diners of NYC and what is the larger goal?
When I lived in Astoria, Queens my apartment was two blocks from Neptune Diner, a famous Queens diner. I would pass it every day looking at its faux-rock façade and think about how much I wanted to photograph it. Then I realized how endangered New York Diners are, so I did some research and realized there wasn’t a working photographer who was documenting this, so I figured it might as well be me.
What are your plans for the project once you’ve documented every diner?
As I’m the first photographer to document all the New York City diners, I’d like to publish a photo book. I’m also in the process of pitching a New York Diner travel book with a colleague. Additionally, I’d like to get these images into some archives, this really is a piece of New York and American history!
New York obviously has no shortage of restaurants, but what do you think makes diners special?
Diners are a uniquely American invention, as is the food they serve. In the case of New York City diners, many have been around for over 30 years, some as old as 60 years. For any American city- that’s a long time for a restaurant to stay in business. The older diners have a very distinct design.
How do diners vary borough to borough?
Manhattan has the smallest diners and most touristic. Diners in the Bronx have the largest parking lots, although Staten Island is close. Queens has more ethnic-inspired diners and the most standalone. Brooklyn has the most foodie and fusion diners. The clientele and architecture also vary quite a lot. You see more new diners opening in outer boroughs, which is comforting!
When you were living in NYC, did you have a favorite diner?
Kane’s Diner in Flushing. It’s the best!
What’s your favorite item to order?
Matzo ball soup.
Any upcoming projects you can fill us in on?
This diner project keeps me pretty busy, but I have two other long-term documentary projects photographing the Post-Soviet Baltics and photographing the remains of mining ghost towns in Colorado.
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Court Square Diner in Long Island City
Arch Diner in Canarsie
Broadway Restaurant on Broadway and 101st Street
Jackson House in Jackson Heights
Nevada Diner in Elmhurst, Queens
New York Diner in Long Island City
Crescent Kitchen in Astoria
Gracie Mews Diner on First Avenue and 81st Street
Orion Diner & Grill on Second Avenue and 23rd Street
The Lindenwood Diner in Lindenwood, Brooklyn
Shalimar Diner in Flushing
Juniors Restaurant in Downtown Brooklyn
The now-closed Cup & Saucer diner on the Lower East Side
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