I have been communicating with Beth Lennon recently (of Retro Roadmap, see last Diner Hotline post). She is, as I write this, back in Massachusetts to visit with family and do some roadtrip/roadside photo excursions, revisiting diners, donut shops, hot dog stands and clam shacks, not to mention ice cream stands, bowling alleys and mini-golf places.
In our recent communications, we spoke about the possibility of doing a colaboratory blog post which as it turns out will be this one! She asked for my recommendation of my favorite diners in Massachusetts.
I probably could go wild with this list, but I decided I would break it into more than one post. This first one will be my current Top 10. Please keep in mind, the diners on this list could change at any time for whatever reason and it is only my opinion, others may have a different experience.
The list will be expanded in future posts and may include non-factory-built diners such as the Tumble Inn Diner in Saugus, Ernie’s Lunch in Melrose as well as the Shady Glen in Turners Falls and the Groveland Diner in Groveland. Also, these diners represent places that serve breakfast, lunch (and some of them dinner). I will talk about some other diners doing shorter menus (I.E. Hot Dogs, Hamburgers, etc.) in one of the later posts.
So here goes….. starting with Number 1
Capitol Diner, 431 Union Street, Lynn, Mass.
1928 vintage Brill Diner
The Capitol Diner in Lynn will always be at the top of any diner list in my book! Currently the only operating Brill Diner left in the world (to my knowledge). Owned and operated by Bob Fennell, his family’s ownership goes back to 1938 with his Dad’s Uncle George at the helm. In 1948, Bob’s Dad… Buddy came down from his native Canada to visit Uncle George and Uncle George put him to work as he was shorthanded that day. Well that one day turned into 50 plus years! Bob has been in charge since Buddy’s passing a number of years ago. The Capitol is everything a diner should be. If you are a regular customer, it is basically like sitting in a friend’s kitchen and having a great meal. If you are a first time visitor, you will immediately feel welcome and part of the family.
Rosebud Diner, 381 Summer Street,
1941 vintage Worcester Diner
The Rosebud Diner is one place I can recall from a young age. But when I was young it was a bar, not serving food. The Nichols family has owned the diner since the late 1950’s. When they first bought it, it was a regular working diner. But as the story goes… one day in 1957 the cooks came in and discovered that the cooking area was dismantled and the diner was being turned into a cocktail bar and lounge and that the cooks were basically out of a job. The diner continued to be used in this fashion and had even acquired a “mansard roof” replacing a canvas awning across the front roof facade in the early 1970’s.
The Nichols’ sold the diner circa 1989 (if I remember correctly) and it continued to be used as a bar with limited food service under at least 2 operators until the mid-1990’s when the people who had bought the diner defaulted on the mortgage. The Nichols’ stepped back in at this point and decided to give the place a limited restoration and operate it as a Diner again. Bill Nichols said he was inspired by Dick Gutman’s “American Diner Then & Now” history book. During the restoration Bill even left a message on my answering machine to let me know that they had removed the “mansard” from the structure, exposing the original “monitor roof” of the diner. I had been after him to “take the mansard off” for years!
With the diner’s reopening it has been reborn as slightly more upscale than the local neighborhood diner offering breakfast, lunch and dinner along with a full liquor license.
Shawmut Diner, 943 Shawmut Avenue,
New Bedford, Mass.
1953 vintage Jerry O’Mahony Diner
It has been a while since I was at the Shawmut Diner but I have a hunch things are still the same at this wonderful place! Owned and operated by Phil & Celeste Paleologos since the early 1980’s, this place stands out not only for good food and friendly, fast service, but you cannot ever leave there without a smile on your face, especially if Phil is on the premises.
If you looked up the definition for the words affable and gracious, you just might see Phil Paleologos’ face accompanying the text! Since I have known Phil, I don’t believe that he has ever greeted me with a handshake, it has always been with a bear-hug! That is the kind of guy he is. In fact my artist friend Becky Haletky (she does some wonderful diner and roadside related paintings) emailed me just yesterday and said she was at the Shawmut and met Phil on Thursday, here is what she said….
David (her husband) and I picked up Jaime (her son) in New Bedford yesterday, and took him to lunch at the Shawmut. I met Phil… gregarious guy!!!… and showed him the painting I did of his diner. He seemed to really love it. I told him I know you guys (Denise & I) and Dick (Gutman). He is a very friendly man! I’m hoping he’ll buy the painting. Me too Becky!
Anyway, if you are ever in the Southeastern Massachusetts area stop in to the Shawmut, you’ll never be disappointed!
Salem Diner, 70 Loring Avenue, Salem, Mass.
1941 vintage Sterling Diner
The Salem Diner is one of only 2 “Sterling Streamliner” diners still operating. The other is the Modern Diner of Pawtucket, RI. There are others but they are all in storage at this point in time. The diner was sort of a little down at the heels a couple of years ago until the current owners George and Zoe Elefteriadis bought the diner in late 2007, they revamped the diner by cleaning it up, re-doing the booths, tile floor and counter apron. It made a big difference. It also didn’t hurt that they provide some great meals & friendly service which my wife Denise really appreciates. It has certainly risen to be one of our regular stops.
Tim’s Diner, 14 Water Street,
1949 vintage Silk City Diner
What can I say about Tim’s Diner? Let’s see,(1) it is possibly the smallest diner ever built by Silk City Diners (Paterson Vehicle Company), (2) you can get a really great breakfast there (I never had lunch there, but I’m sure it is just as good)! (3) Tim and his staff are always friendly (I’m seeing a pattern here on this list). I’m sure there are other reasons I love Tim’s Diner but most of all because it is there!
Originally operated as Roy’s Diner, Tim’s dad (the original Tim) took over the operation sometime in the 1950’s (I believe) and the rest they say, is history! I know I am always looking forward to the next trip out to Leominster to eat at Tim’s!
Blanchard’s 101 Diner, 322 Cambridge Street,
Construction started late 1950’s by Worcester Lunch Car Company, completed 2007-2008 by the Blanchard family
Blanchard’s 101 Diner is the newest old diner in Worcester. I wrote about this around the time they opened (see the post from January 26, 2008)
In that post I mentioned the history of the building as I knew it at the time. I told about Francis Van Slett who started the Worcester Deluxe Diner Company after the Worcester Lunch Car Company folded. He basically bought the assets of the older company at auction in 1961 with the intention of carrying on the business. A few months later it was mentioned in the local newspaper that he was starting the construction of a new diner on speculation.
Since then we have come to the conclusion that this new diner that Mr. Van Slett said he had started to build was really one left over from the Worcester Lunch Car Company! He got it at auction with all the other assets. It remained in unfinished condition and in storage for over 40 years.
Anyway, since Chris and Matt Blanchard finished the construction of the diner and opened it, it has now become my go-to place for breakfast in Worcester! As much as I like the Boulevard Diner or the Parkway Diner or even the Miss Worcester Diner, I always end up at Blanchard’s! Great people, great service, great food! Enough said!
Agawam Diner, 166 Newburyport Turnpike
(U.S. Rte. 1), Rowley, Mass.
1954 vintage Fodero Diner
The Agawam Diner, just say those words to anyone who is familiar with the place and you will almost always hear…. Oh, I love their creme pies! My personal favorite is the Coconut Creme Pie but I am sure any of the other pies they bake daily are just as scrumptious! This diner has been run by the Galanis family from day one. In fact this is actually Agawam Diner No. 3. No. 1 is currently operating as the Fish Tale Diner just a few miles up U.S. Rte. 1 in Salisbury. No’s 2 & 4 are no longer extant.
This place does a tremendous business, especially on the weekends when you can usually see a line waiting to get inside this stainless steel beauty. The prices for their meals recently were increased slightly but are still quite reasonable compared to some other places.
Fish Tale Diner, 420 Bridge Road
(U.S. Rte. 1), Salisbury, Mass.
1940 vintage Worcester Diner
As I stated above this is formerly Agawam Diner No. 1. It has been located in Salisbury since the early 1970’s. After it got to it’s current location, the old bright red porcelain enameled steel panels were replaced with weathered shingles that sort of makes the diner fit in next to the marina it is adjacent to, hard by the banks of the Merrimac River overlooking Newburyport.
The current owners have installed a deck out front for expanded seating in the good weather. It is quite possibly one of the nicest locations of any diner I know. I seem to always get the Apple Pancakes whenever I go there for breakfast. I say I’m going to get something different but then I can’t resist, I go for the Apple Pancakes! The same thing happens at the 50-50 Diner in Fitchburg. Recently there was a rumor that the place may close due to redevelopment, but someone associated with the diner assured me that was probably not going to happen. I hope they were right!
Portside Diner, 2 River Street, Danvers, Mass.
1948 vintage Worcester Diner
I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the Portside Diner, mainly because it is virtually the identical twin to the Star Lite Diner I used to go to in Medford, the town I grew up in. Both of these diners were built in 1948, the Portside’s original name was the Cape Ann Grill and it’s first operating location was Gloucester. It was moved to Danvers sometime in the early 1960’s I believe.
The Star Lite was built a few months after the Cape Ann and operated from late 1948 to approx. the summer of 1968 when it was removed to a salvage yard never to be operated again. It wasn’t until the mid- 1980’s that I recognized the Portside’s resemblance to the Star Lite. Being that at that time there were no known photographs of the Star Lite, I could not remember what it looked like. One day I was sitting in the Portside and it dawned on me that they had a pretty similar layout on the inside. In fact as I have found out, they were the only 2 Worcester Diners that were built like this.
Anyway, the Portside offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, 6 days a week with breakfast only on Sundays. Their menu features basic diner food with daily specials at reasonable prices.
Four Sister’s Owl Diner, 244 Appleton Street,
1940 vintage Worcester Diner
Here is another diner that packs them in on the weekend! I’m sure they do a decent business throughout the week but like the Agawam, there could almost always be a wait on Saturday and Sunday to get a seat at this classic Worcester. In fact they have added a large entryway that when finished will double as a waiting area with seats.
They give you a lot of food for your buck and it’s always good! Operated by the Shanahan family since the early 1980’s, it has spawned at least 2 other on-site diners in recent years, when family members opened the Dream Diner in Tyngsboro and Rosie’s Diner in North Chelmsford.