There’s nothing quite like the 24-hour diner to fix your drunken hankering for food or provide you a place for coffee and cheap eats when you need a break from an all-nighter. Sadly, it turns out we don’t have a birthright to these magic food boxes, as a story in Crain’s shows that diners in New York are facing threats from fake franchise diners, increased costs and the rent situation that threatens to drive all of us into the sea (or Cleveland).
In going over the threats faced by diners citywide, Crain’s notes that in just a generation the number of diners citywide has dropped from 1,000 to just 398 according to the Department of Health. Over half the diners in the city, gone in a relative flash! Adding even more insult to injury, the only kinds of diners that are looking at a bright future are places like the Brooklyn Diner, home of the $21.75 hot dog or Ellen’s Stardust Diner, kitschy Midtown spots that are more theme restaurant than greasy spoon.
Like the idea of a city without bodegas, a city without diners seems unthinkable and isn’t a reality we want to consider. This isn’t some paean to an idea that Crain’s put forward, about diners being egalitarian places where the loathed Gary Bettman eats eggs at the same counter that Sal the truck driver who just called WFAN to bitch about overtime has his burger. That’s nice, but diners work on a much simpler level. They’re open extremely late, sometimes all night, and they serve you unpretentious food at affordable prices. Who doesn’t want that?
I’m not gonna sit here and pretend like we don’t eat at places where they brag about their farm-to-table pipelines and the massages given to the tomatoes used in the salads, but fancy new places serve their purpose, and diners do too. What a shame then that we’re being forced to choose between the two. Watching a reliable favorite on Atlantic Avenue and 3rd Street get replaced by another goddamn ramen place, one that isn’t even open past midnight fucking sucks. Where will you drink your bottomless coffee in the future without diners? Where will you get your pancakes at 3am or your cheap steak at 3pm if all our diners disappear? Where will drunken nights be recounted once the bars have been closed but going home still doesn’t seem like a good option? Go out and give your favorite diner a hug this weekend (and also eat there and give them your money), because at the rate we’re losing them, it might not be around next year.