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Neil’s Coffee Shop (961 Lexington Avenue; 212-628-7474) is another traditional establishment located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, not far from museums like the Whitney and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This diner exists in various shades of brown – tan booths, beige walls and light brown chairs. Headshots of celebrity patrons hang on a wall above the front dining room, including Liza Minnelli, George Stephanopoulos and Patrick Stewart. Neil’s opened in the 1950s, but Chris Kaloudis and his family have run the joint since 1980. “Have you looked at our prices?” he laughed when asked how business has fared as the US economy struggles. “The recession has definitely affected us,” he said. While a coffee and slice of cherry pie will set you back only $5, prices have risen over the past few years as tourism has declined and customers have been scarce. Still, Neil’s offers satisfying and sometimes greasy diner food that costs significantly less than many other Upper East Side restaurants.
In Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights neighbourhood, Tom’s Restaurant (782 Washington Avenue; 718-636-9738) has offered a quintessential diner experience since 1936. The egg creams (soda water mixed with chocolate or vanilla syrup and milk) and cherry-lime rickeys (lime juice and maraschino cherries mixed with lemon-lime soda) are not to be missed here. On weekend mornings, Tom’s is usually swarmed with customers hungry for brunch and there is often a wait, thanks to the enormous amount of breakfast dishes they have on the menu – more than 15 different types of pancakes (including sweet potato) and as many omelettes to match. In the mood for something savoury? Try the crab cakes or the excellent tuna melt, with fresh tomatoes and perfectly crisp fries – two dishes that go above and beyond the average diner fare. The interior design is a bit eccentric; Christmas lights cover the walls and a soundtrack of old-timey jazz plays as you eat.
There are, of course, classic diner experiences to be had in all corners of New York City. There’s another Tom’s Restaurant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which has been around since the 1940s, and was made famous by the Suzanne Vega song “Tom’s Diner” and as the exterior shots of Monk’s Diner on the TV show Seinfeld. Chelsea Square Restaurant (368 West 23rd Street; 212-691-5400) lies in the heart of Manhattan’s Chelsea neighbourhood and features many Greek dishes among the usual diner standbys.
Kellogg’s Diner (518 Metropolitan Avenue; 718-782-4502) in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighbourhood is another classic eatery, frequented by the young and fashionable residents who live in the area. A bit farther out, in Maspeth, Queens, the Clinton Diner and Bar (5626 Maspeth Avenue; 718-894-3475) has been around since 1935 and was prominently featured in the movie Goodfellas. A frequent stop for truck drivers, the Clinton Diner retains its retro 1950s look, with blue panelling along the outer wall and a jagged, blue structure jutting out from the rooftop.
In the Bronx, Castle Hill Diner (1506 Bronxdale Avenue; 718-828-3993) serves an eggs Benedict (poached eggs on an English muffin covered with Hollandaise sauce) that customers rave about in online reviews. Staten Island has its fair share of diners as well, including the Annadale Diner (813 Annadale Road; 718-984-3200), which features a full bar as well as dinner classics like roast chicken and broiled steaks.
It seems in every borough and neighbourhood of New York City, a grilled cheese, Western omelette, Greek salad and milkshake are just around the corner. Slide into a leather booth or sidle up to a lunch counter to enjoy an unpretentious meal while you can, because the classic diner may not be around for much longer.