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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Tom's Restaurant / Morningside Heights

I am sitting
In the morning
At the diner
On the corner

I am waiting
At the counter
For the man
To pour the coffee

And he fills it
Only halfway
And before
I even argue

He is looking
Out the window
At somebody
Coming in

-"Tom's Diner," Suzanne Vega

Two important pop cultural landmarks stand as one in wedded bliss at the corner of West 112th Street and Broadway. Tom's Restaurant deserves a visit from music junkies just as much as it does from crazed fans of the hit sitcom Seinfeld (not to insinuate that one cannot belong to both distinguished categories.)

Yes, Tom's Restaurant registers first in the collective conscious (or at least in Google's most searched) as the iconic exterior shot which often zooms in on the furrowed brow of George Costanza. But it also serves as the backdrop to an unforgettable anthem of the 80's, penned and performed by Upper West Sider Suzanne Vega herself. 

The first time I approached the diner from across Broadway, I took in the perfect setting for a bittersweet vignette, the one Suzanne Vega experienced and wove into a lyrical masterpiece. As I passed the corner window, I imagined the singer-songwriter, as she described, seated with a cup of joe on a rainy morning, shuffling haphazardly through the papers. I pretended to be the girl with the umbrella who walks in and locks eyes with Vega for a brief moment--before she dashes away to the sound of distant chimes summoning her to the train station.

As it happens, the bells Vega heard and wrote about came from the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, one block away on Amsterdam Avenue. The cathedral is visible from the point of view of a pedestrian approaching Tom's Restaurant from the west. I managed to capture a photograph of the cathedral alongside the restaurant (or rather, the cathedral photobombed my photo of the restaurant.)

The diner, which came to life in the 1940's, is still operated by the same Greek-American family, according to the restaurant's official website. Though they have faced recent hardships, including the death of the owner last November, the support of the community buoys the beloved restaurant to preserve its legacy onscreen and in song. Tom's Restaurant stands in its original glory, boasting that unmistakable neon sign which still lures the hungry, Harlem-bound hikers of Broadway--serving as the "morning star" of Morningside Heights. And, by George, the light is not going out anytime soon.


  1. These posts are making me want to visit NYC! I watched Seinfeld so I know this diner but didn't know it inspired a song as well. Can't wait to read about your next visit!

  2. I'm thinking I'll spend Festivus at Tom's Restaurant and bathe in the Seinfeld glory. I love that you're making these iconic pop culture references so accessible to us

  3. That's my neighborhood! Love the photos.

  4. Thank you for shedding light on NYC's hidden gems!

  5. Poetically melancholy, and deeply informative. Perfect!