Posted by: dinerhotline | February 11, 2012

Notes from the Hotline, 2-11-2012

Goodbye to Miss Albany


The Miss Albany Diner, April 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

On November 14th, 2009 I posted about the Miss Albany Diner of Albany, NY was for sale and it was  just a little over 15 months ago when I wrote about the passing of old friend Cliff Brown, the owner of the Miss Albany Diner, (see this post…… http://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/in-memoriam-cliff-brown-owner-of-miss-albany-diner/) .

Last week (Feb. 3rd) on the Miss Albany’s Facebook page it was announced that Cliff’s wife Jane and son Bill had finalized the sale of the diner to the owners Wolff ‘s Biergarten (the business next door to the diner).

Here is what was written on their Facebook page…..
On Wednesday, February 1st, 2012, the Miss Albany Diner was sold to the owners of Wolff ‘s Biergarten. The final day of business as the Miss Albany Diner will be Friday, February 10. The Brown family would like to thank all the employees over the years who have helped make the Miss Albany Diner a success, especially Kim, Gina, Mark and Stephen. They are an integral part of …the Miss Albany whose dedication and hard work made the effort of running the diner so much easier. We are very grateful that they have chosen to stay with us for so long. May they all find great success in whatever they choose to do.
Over the past 23 years we have greatly enjoyed the opportunity of meeting so many people from all walks of life and all around the world. Making so many new friends and acquaintances has been the best part of owning the Miss Albany Diner.

On Thursday, the New York Times did a front page article on this iconic diner’s closing…….

Throwback in Albany Will Serve Last Meal

By John Eligon
ALBANY — The Mad Irish Toast sold out in three hours. Akum Norder was fortunate enough to get the last plate of it on Wednesday: French toast made with Texas-style bread, pecan cream filling and Irish whiskey sauce. After she had finished, she scraped the residue off the dish with her finger and licked it, mourning her farewell to the Miss Albany Diner.

The Miss Albany, a streamlined metal diner fabricated to look like a railroad car, has been a fixture of north Albany since Herbert H. Lehman was governor, but it is closing on Friday.

“It’s an incredible loss,” Ms. Norder, 39, said while staring at the remains of her meal. “There’s nothing like this.”

For the last several days, since the owner unexpectedly announced last week that it was closing, the line for a seat spilled onto the sidewalk, in front of its custard-and-raspberry-colored exterior. The patrons wore suits, jeans, hoodies and work boots. They crammed into the cherry wood booths, careful not to burn their legs on the radiator below, or onto chrome counter stools, admiring the arched ceiling, the porcelain-coated steel walls, the hand-laid floor and wall tiles, and the punchy signs (“The benches are to sit on. The floor is for feet.”).

“Where else can you go back in time like this?” Frank Woods asked, as he waited for a table.

In general, restaurants in downtown Albany cater to lobbyists with big checkbooks or state workers on their lunch breaks, but the Miss Albany Diner is a throwback, a place known as much for its quirks — the waiters used to serve Sunday brunch in tuxedos — as for its creative menu and homey feel. And the restaurant is on the National Register of Historic Places, cited as “a distinctive example of mid-20th-century American roadside architecture.”

“It’s been an anchor in that area for many, many, many years,” said Mayor Gerald D. Jennings of Albany, who has frequented the diner since he was a child.

Miss Albany’s owner, Jane Brown, 77, relishes stories about the early days of the diner, when the first owner, Lil McCauliff, was said to have dragged misbehaving customers out by the collars. But Ms. Brown herself is a character. She has done voice-overs for commercials, acted in independent movies and said she once stopped a fight between patrons with a stern stare and two words: “Sit down.”

Ms. Brown said she and her husband, Clifford, had been trying to sell the diner for several years because they were getting old and wanted to retire. Then, two years ago, Mr. Brown died.

Ms. Brown finally found a buyer in Matthew Baumgartner, a prominent local restaurateur who owns a neighboring beer garden. Mr. Baumgartner said he and his business partners would retain the structure but would probably open a restaurant inside. The diner’s days, it appears, are over.

The lot Miss Albany occupies, about a mile and a half from the Capitol, was the site of a lunch cart that opened in 1929, serving workers in what was a commercial and industrial area. The railroad-car-style diner was erected in 1941 and named Lil’s Diner, after Ms. McCauliff. In the mid-1980s, it was restored for use in “Ironweed,” a film starring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep that was based on the novel by William Kennedy; the filmmakers called it the Miss Albany Diner, taking the name from a onetime chain of local diners.

The Browns bought the diner in 1988; Mr. Brown was responsible for much of the food and décor.

A pegboard on one wall lists how far away various cities are, from Troy (8 minutes) to Tokyo (15 hours), because Mr. Brown saw Albany as a central meeting point. And then there are the three rectangular pieces of Styrofoam, each with a slightly different hue, hanging from the ceiling; Mr. Brown wanted patrons to point to one of the three to indicate the degree of doneness they wanted for their French fries.

The Mad Eggs are a version of eggs Benedict, topped with a curry sauce instead of hollandaise, because Mr. Brown had high cholesterol. And Cliff’s Ugly Eggs were born on the day Mr. Brown asked the cook to whip him up eggs with anchovies and mushrooms; when the dish arrived, the man next to him said it looked ugly.

The diner’s relatively remote location inspired the Browns’ son, Bill, a chef, when he created the menu.

“I kind of figured since nobody really knew about the diner at the time, they weren’t coming down here for bacon and eggs,” he said. “So I thought this gave us license to do anything we could think up.”

Bill Brown recalled seeing Stan Lundine, lieutenant governor during the administration of Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, sitting on a stool surrounded by an art student, a janitor, the president of a local company and a truck driver.

“They all sat there trading jokes,” he said. “It didn’t matter who anybody was, as long as you had a good joke to tell. That’s really the spirit of the diner, to sit and share, take a break from life.”
To all of our customers over the years we would like to say that it was a pleasure meeting you and Thank You for your support.
Finally, we wish the new owners every success. May the diner bring them as much joy and laughter as it did our family.

From what I have read, the Brown family will retain the “Miss Albany” name and their trademark recipes. It is rumored that they might have a Miss Albany cookbook planned for the future that will include all their signature dishes. It has also been mentioned that the building will not reopen as a diner but as a possible late night eatery that will serve the many nightspot type businesses in the area. Hopefully the building itself will not be altered as it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Brown’s were always congenial and gracious hosts making regular customers (and occasional customers like me, for instance) always feel welcome. I want to wish a happy retirement to Jane Brown and best wishes to Bill Brown on whatever endeavors he embarks on in the future.

More news on Somerville’s Rosebud Diner


postcard view of Rosebud Diner, photo by Larry Cultrera

The other day Randy Garbin of Roadsideonline posted a link to Livejournal.com blurb on who is negotiating to buy the Rosebud Diner.
http://davis-square.livejournal.com/2834458.html

In the blurb by Ron Newman it stated…..

Tasty Burger to replace Rosebud?

Brandon Wilson from the Somerville Historic Preservation Commission told me that Tasty Burger is negotiating to buy both the Rosebud Diner and the Bar and Grille behind it. They plan to combine the two into a single restaurant.The Historic Preservation folks are involved because Somerville has designated the diner as a single-building historic district. This means the city has to approve alterations to the façade — such as painting out the name Rosebud on the diner, or removing the neon Rosebud sign on top.

If the deal goes through, the city will have to somehow balance its interest in historic preservation against the new business’s right to put its own name on the building.

 
 According to an article written by Leah Mennies posted on 12/7/2011 at bostonmagazine.com…… David DuBois, owner of Tasty Burger, Citizen Public House and The Franklin restaurants, was planning on expanding his Tasty Burger concept to at least two new locations and Davis Square was one of the locations.
 
The Rosebud Diner is not only a single building historic district in the City of Somerville, it is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Multiple Property Submission (MPS) by the Massachusetts Historical Commission. Maybe there will be enough opposition from the historical interests to change Mr. DuBois’s mind in pursuing this.
 
I spoke with Bill Nichols whose family owns the diner and he informed me that he feels that the sale of the diner might not go through. I hope this is the case!
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