New York City probably has one diner for every 30 people but I’ve never seen the love-bordering-on-obsession that Joe Jr., a diner only a block away from my apartment, inspires. I recently met another food writer at a party and as soon as I told him my address in Gramercy Park near Third Avenue, he said, “Oh! That’s right by Joe Jr!” as if it were a national landmark. And when my out-of-town guests pass the coffee shop with the retro (but not chic) lunch counter and cozy booths, they always say, “Can we please go there? It just looks so New York!” One Joe Jr. customer is so enamored with the little coffee shop that he rented it out this past Saturday night and transformed it into a full-on club with spinning disco balls, thump-a-thump music and spiky haired bartenders wearing tight black shirts. The next morning, the friendly, efficient waiters in their crisp white shirts and black vests were back, serving up the usual slightly overcooked eggs and undercooked French toast.
Much like Eli Kearney wrote in one of my favorite Onion articles, I’ve wistfully thought, “Don’t people realize what Joe Jr. could be?” If only it would serve organic eggs, fair-trade coffee and locally raised bacon. It is just a couple blocks from the Union Square Greenmarket. But I doubt people would love a yuppie, faux-retro Joe Jr. as much as the one that looks and tastes like nothing’s changed since the Nixon era. Plus, if a giant, stuffed Joe Jr. omelet is good enough for Wylie Dufresne, New York City’s top avant-garde chef, then it’s good enough for me.