search for authentic

Car #13 off the line in 1952

I love diners. I don’t mean old 70’s suburban or roadside buildings that serve burgers and gravy and call themselves a diner. I mean buildings built in a factory like a train car and are placed on a street corner in Main Street USA. These stainless steel and aluminum wonders simply ARE diners even if they are a bit beat up, worn and unusual. They’re not trying to be anything but what they are and what you see is exactly what they are. Greasy spoon, boomerang laminate, metal edged counters and coffee…endless coffee.


I have memories from my childhood of diners and I’ve been in many in the years that followed. I have been in many diner-wannabes too, but they generally disappoint. It’s not that they can’t sell good food. It’s not that they don’t sell good food. They’re just not a diner. Perhaps it would be better if they said they were something else.

A recent trip caused me to ponder this as my wife and I found a diner through serendipity and then returned the next day to share it with our son. Breakfast two days in a row at the same place – perfect.

The long drive home lent time to think.

Crazy front enclosure added years later I admit.

Why is this important? Good gravy or good crispy bacon is all we’re looking for right? Not really (and we do generally eat quite healthy). We want the real experience and all of the components come together to give that whether it’s a school, a house or even a diner.

If eating to you is merely getting lots calories in to stop the hunger pains, then you’ll never follow my logic.

I am an architect. No, a seriously committed one that has rose colored glasses and an idealism that gets in the way. I think about things…all things. I think about architecture a lot and I think about what it ought to be or even wants to be. I think about my work and I want it to be based on my experiences such as these so that others can have the same.

It wants to be authentic.

…trying not to be obvious didn’t allow for clear pictures

One of the reasons I discovered my distaste for certain materials and certain buildings and certain assemblies, typically comes back to this quality. People know this. They often can’t identify it specifically, but they know it when it happens.

So what does that mean? What does it mean to you? To be honest, I don’t know and I’m not sure I want to fully define it for everyone.

I know that what I saw on the outside of this diner was the same on the inside. Essentially everything inside was original from when it came off of the factory line in 1952. The series of owners appreciated it enough to keep it real, keep it original, keep it authentic. Even the servers, who did a great job, contributed to the experience. In fact, one server called the owner out (in his stained white apron) to share the story with us.

The food was really good too.


OK…at Cormac‘s suggestion, I couldn’t resist. Tap your toes and “go and grab yourself a cheeseburger at the little gem diner off the six niner.”

search for authentic

10 thoughts on “search for authentic

  1. right there with you brother, and I (hope) that I am instilling this similar love for the old diners in my boys because every time we are on a day trip or whenever they always point out the old roadside diners and ask to eat there instead of the major chain stuff. they even comment to me that you “don’t get to see real america any other way”, which I completely agree with. nice post.

  2. Rob says:

    I have to both agree and disagree with the post. As an architect, i certainly like and seek out the old “diner cars” both constructed and re purposed (as a kid, I used to eat at a diner made out of an old trolley car), but I beg to differ on what defines an “authentic” diner. It is not the architecture, it is how it is run, by who, and of course – the food. I have vast experience with diners and the one thing that pulls all of them together is the owner/operator. As in the diner is run by the owner. Good food, usually simple, usually inexpensive.
    If you study successful, long running diners, I believe you will find a consistency in the architecture that I will call authentic. It is: a) simple, b) efficient, c) clean, d) familiar – also most f) have a waitress that will call you “hon”. I think the “diner cars” made in the 50’s and 60’s are a result of the formula above, not the other way around. Today most good diners are less about the nostalgic architecture, and more about a) through f) above. Too often, I have been to restored diner cars, only to find that they have been turned into upscale eateries, with complex menus. They can be genuinely good, but the only thing “diner” about them is the building.
    As an aside, if you are looking for a good diner while in Cincinnati, just ask a local for the nearest locally owned “chili parlor” (everybody has a favorite – but stay out of the “chains”).

  3. And then there’s the movie “Diner” – one of my faves! Ah, the search for authenticity. Architects appreciate it and try to incorporate it – even with traditional/stylistic architecture. But it is a fight. So many home-building clients just don’t appreciate authenticity – or want to pay for it. The Houzz affect has people building bland. boxy homes (with the market necessitated curb appeal) only to have each room decorated to the nines – almost like separate stage sets that have no relationship whatsoever to each other or to the house as a whole. Authenticity remains an elusive search! It’s such a shame!

  4. How interesting that what could be the cheesiest part of Americana is also the best? As a NJ native, diners were a substantial part of my youth. The vinyl booths and unencumbered bar tops behold almost all of my youth.

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