Pearl Street Diner
In 2014, I decided to visit all five of the last standalone diners in Manhattan. I later found out there was a sixth—Hector’s under the Highline—but the Market Diner has since been demolished, bringing the total back down to five. A standalone diner is one that isn’t in a traditional storefront, but is a one-story structure that could, presumably, stand on its own. These are rare in the city for obvious reasons and the ones that remain are seriously endangered.
The Pearl Street Diner, located in the Financial District, is the latest diner to be living on borrowed time. Permits were recently filed to build a 21-story hotel at 212 Pearl Street, which presumably means the end of yet another classic diner. No closing date has been set—so I’m hoping for a miracle—but after seeing the Market Diner reduced to rubble for similar reasons, I’m having a hard time believing that the Pearl will live on.
The Pearl Street Diner is an anomaly for several reasons—it’s positively dwarfed by the high rise buildings towering around it, and it’s one of the only reliable places to get a reasonably-priced breakfast on the weekend in an area that still mostly serves office workers on the weekdays. The Pearl has been serving classic diner food since 1962 and it was flooded during Superstorm Sandy but managed to reopen.
The Pearl Street Diner has all the hallmarks of a classic diner: large menus, cheap prices, overworked waitresses, vinyl booths and one of the best neon signs I’ve ever seen. In what I can only see now as a bad omen, the letters in the sign have slowly been going dim since I first visited in 2014, and one side is now completely burnt out. The Pearl also has the distinction of having the tiniest bathroom I’ve ever seen—how cute is that miniature pink sink?
I try to eat at a diner at least once a week, but I’ve been the Pearl more times than I can count. It was the place my mom and I would eat before catching the ferry to IKEA; Francesca and I had breakfast there before we explored an abandoned Staten Island hospital; it’s where I invited my mom to accompany me to the abandoned Farm Colony; Jim and I ate there before our muddy Staten Island adventure, and I ate breakfast at the Pearl before I climbing into the crown of the Statue of Liberty.
There’s a reason that most TV shows and movies feature at least one scene of characters having a heart-to-heart in a classic diner booth. Diners are living spaces, where the coffee invites conversation and the counter stools breed camaraderie. They are comforting but unique, democratizing spaces open to everyone from Jennifer Lawrence (who I recently saw at the Square Diner in TriBeCa) to someone who can barely scrape enough change together for a cup of coffee. When you demolish a diner, you’re demolishing 50 years of stories told through the coffee stains and worn booths—and no luxury condo or boutique hotel is worth that loss.
Pearl Street Diner
212 Pearl Street
New York, NY