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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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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