With the reopening of Empire Diner in Chelsea, I was excited to finally get a chance to dine in this iconic building.
Built in 1946, the Empire Diner was constructed by the Fodero Dining Car Company and operated as a Manhattan diner until nearly being abandoned years later. Under new owners, the former greasy spoon on then grungy 10th Avenue, was refurbished in 1976 and turned into a landmark restaurant. They painted a large “EAT” on the wall behind the diner and installed a miniature, stainless steel, stylized outline of the Empire State Building on a corner of the roof.
Becoming Chelsea’s first upscale retro diner, it became a huge success, appearing as a New York magazine cover story and sparking similar upscale retro diners. The 24 hour diner treated customers to candlelight, live piano music, and a pricey but non traditional menu. It become a gathering place for artists and a major force in the Chelsea Renaissance that led to the area becoming more gentrified with art galleries, hotels, and other restaurants moving into the area. It’s Art Moderne exterior became an iconic image in films like Manhattan, Home Alone 2 and Men in Black II (but wasn’t where Mary Jane worked in Spiderman — which I thought it was).
But due to lease issues, the Empire Diner closed once again in 2010 and the rooftop Empire State Building replica mysteriously went missing. Four years later, the restaurant reopened again in 2014, under Executive Chef Amanda Freitag. Guests can try Freitag’s signatures and all-day menu items along with classics inspired by popular American dishes from around the country.
Walking in into the Empire Diner you you definitely feel like you’ve stepped into a train car. They don’t take reservations but we were lucky and were seated within 10 minutes. Its very cool inside, and you feel that retro diner a la chic. But I have to say, the food let it down. It’s really nothing special. I had the Spicy Tomato Prawns with fennel chickpeas and spring onions as my main dish. It was basically a soup with 3 prawns for $25. Totally not filling, and not extremely satisfying. Better bets would have been the Vegetable Lasagna or the Fish and Chips, and don’t expect large diner proportions.
Definitely worth going to the Empire Diner for the chance to dine in this iconic building, just don’t expect the food to match the experience.
Empire Diner 210 10th Ave, New York, NY 10011