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November 2, 2000

Dying on Main Street, Diners Are Alive Online


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Roadside Magazine
Kullman Industries
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MANY years ago in Worcester, Mass., there was a diner called Alice and the Hat. One block off Main Street, the diner was a classic red Worcester Lunch Car Company design, with gothic lettering on the side and a sign showing a fedora. The Hat was the nickname of a former newspaperman and Alice was his wife.

The hamburgers in that place are fondly recalled, the visions no doubt magnified over the decades, as having been the size of pie plates.

One day it seemed like overnight in place of the red landmark, someone had plopped down a real estate office.

The destruction of Alexandria could not have been more painful.

All that's left of Alice and the Hat is its image in one of John Baeder's photorealist diner paintings.

But the American diner is alive and well, and there are fans and students, as devoted as any historic preservationists, who are busy identifying and glorying in its architecture and ambience.

Diner City (, subtitled Your Online Guide to Classic Diners and the American Roadside, is as solid as a New Jersey truck stop, with a mission statement, Diner Facts, a for-sale section and, most important, many pictures, most with text.

A map lets you click on state-by- state directories.

"Every year at least a dozen vintage diners in New Jersey and other diner-rich states such as Massachusetts are being junked, moved, or given hideous makeovers," Ronald C. Saari, the site's creator, wrote in his introduction.

"Watching this happen time and again, I found myself traveling all around the United States with my camera and plenty of film."

Some of Mr. Saari's scores of photographs the nighttime pictures of the Mayfair Diner in northeast Philadelphia, for example, or Al Mac's in Fall River, Mass. evoke the same sort of iconic majesty as O.

Winston Link's photographs of bygone steam locomotives. The site has a recommended reading list and a computer game one can play. (The object is to save Nick's Diner from being bricked up by a remodeler.)

There are many definitions of a diner, and fans can argue about whether 24-hour food is necessary, or swivel counter stools, or jukeboxes at each booth.

But Mr. Saari notes: "A diner is also a place for conversation, a community center in some ways. Perhaps this is why Bill Clinton and Bob Dole both chose classic diners as a campaign rally site during the last presidential election. A diner is one of the best places to `meet the locals.' "

The site has a review section, with submissions welcome. The reviewer of the Miss America Diner in Jersey City wrote: "One time, while talking with the waitresses, we had a `failure to communicate,' and we all got laughing so hard the waitresses started crying and had to run into the kitchen. We never knew what each of us said."

Roadside Magazine promises a new and expanded site this fall ( Gone are dinerdom's classic manufacturers like Worcester, O'Mahony and Silk City (Paterson, N.J., of course), but Roadside's links include three current diner makers: Kullman Industries of Lebanon, N.J. (, which is introducing the new Blue Comet diner; Starlite Manufacturing of Ormond Beach, Fla. (; and Diner-Mite of Atlanta (

Dave Goldberg's Diner Page ( has diner writing that, like 24-hour hash and eggs or Thursday pea soup, comes from people who obviously know the real thing.

Among its essays is "How I Got to Be the Diner Queen," a Proustian reflection on love and food in northern New Jersey by Marion Machucici of North Bergen. There is a review section devoted to the worst diners, thoughtfully left in regular typeface on the grounds that they are "so bad that they aren't worth HTML formatting."

There are also home pages for individual diners and a section on New Jersey diners.

The latter,, has a chatty section on road trips and "The Happy Waitress," a regular interview with a diner employee.

And for a live update, New Jersey Online has a 24-hour Webcam set up over the counter at the White Mana in Jersey City (, one of the historic Manna series and not to be confused with the pint-size White Manna of Hackensack.

Finally, for those who can't get enough of Rosie's Diner, the spot in Little Ferry, N.J., that became famous as the site of Bounty towel commercials, it has been moved to Rockford, Mich., with several other diners, and you can follow its fortunes at

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