Diners & The Imagination

Since I have summer Fridays off from work, I try to take advantage of the cultural and natural amenities of the metropolitan region. I never lack for something to do.

Yearning for the immersive atmosphere of a darkened theater, I recently visited the Film Forum, a cinematic temple in Manhattan’s West Village neighborhood. I bought a ticket for The Killers, a noir masterpiece directed by Robert Siodmak and starring Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner.

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Where Have All the Nice Places Gone?

Several posts ago, I discussed the dearth of decent, new public spaces in Jersey City. This problem with new development and construction exists well beyond Jersey City (Alex Marshall analyzes this distressful pattern in a recent article in Governing magazine). My past discussion centered upon public spaces: parks, libraries, and government buildings. The architecture and aura of private spaces fail to stand as alternative sources of hope.

In October, my wife and I enjoyed our second annual autumn trip to the Jersey Shore. Yes, most folks prefer the beach in summer. We do not like the heat, the sun, or the crowds. This preference is just one of many reasons that might explain our pairing. While staying at our favorite bed and breakfast in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, we patronized Nagle’s Apothecary Cafe.

(Courtesy of Bridge and Tunnel Club)

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A Love Affair with Diners

With Fourth of July upon us, many denizens of the Garden State and America will hit the road for a deserved vacation, a weekend trip to the shore, or a visit to someplace novel and new. Along the way, they’re likely to pull off the road and find a place to eat. For many famished vacationers and day trippers, that establishment will be a diner.

Diners are integral to the identity of New Jersey. Arguably, diners–real diners with all-day breakfast, twenty-four-seven service, and a menu as thick as the Long Island phone book–shape and define America’s cultural and culinary identity itself.

In The History of Diners in New Jersey, Michael C. Gabriele wrote:

“Diners host the ultimate American egalitarian dining experience for saints and sinners. No reservations are required, and none are accepted. There’s a both and a stool for everyone. A diner is a place where wayfarers from any socioeconomic demographic can walk in and grab a bite to eat.”

Gabriele characterized diners are leveling institutions, where guests are treated equally and served dishes from the same menu. A boisterous, salty longshoreman might sit alongside a man wearing a pin-striped suit and engrossed in the Wall Street Journal. A gaggle of teenagers might shriek in a corner booth. A family might relish a lumberjack breakfast after Sunday mass.

Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942 (Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago). Several years ago, I had the good fortune of seeing this painting at a Hopper exhibit at the Whitney Museum. This work captures the mystery and allure of diners.

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