Behind The Counter: A Tribute to Six Classic Diners

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Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the April 2013 edition of The Lo-Down’s print Magazine.

One of the things that makes New York City great is its classic neighborhood diners. On the Lower East Side, we’ve got our share of these old-school spots — places that are so familiar some of us think of them as extensions of our own apartments. In a world that’s becoming more impersonal, there’s something comforting about these no-nonsense hangouts. They’ll make you anything you want, exactly the way you want it, and fast! The guys behind the counter are quick to refill your coffee and will remember exactly how you like your eggs in the morning. You’ve got to admire their ability to handle just about anything, or anyone, and usually with a smile.

As gentrification changes the LES and real estate prices skyrocket, we fear these classic spots may be in danger of extinction. But they’re here now, continuing to ride the ups and downs of the restaurant business, seemingly stronger than ever. Recently, photographer Alex M. Smith and I spent some time hanging out at our local diners, photographing the people who make them tick. These guys have clearly seen it all, having experienced decades of changes in the area. Here’s our tribute to the classic diners of the Lower East Side. (Click through for each owner’s fascinating story and some excellent words of wisdom.)

Newspaper Truck Smashes into Olympic Diner on Delancey Street

Olympic Diner, Essex and Delancey streets.

This morning customers and employees of the Olympic Diner, 115 Delancey Street, are feeling pretty lucky. You wouldn’t think that would be their reaction following an overnight accident that sent a Daily News delivery truck sailing through the restaurant’s facade.

But when we stopped by a short time ago, they were indeed relieved that the incident happened at 1:30 a.m., when the metal drop-down gates were down and the diner closed. The owner said he hates to think what would have happened if people had been sitting at tables alongside the window when the truck came barrelling through.