Goodbye to the Rosebud Diner

Well as reported in the past few months, the Rosebud Diner of Davis Square in Somerville, Mass. has finally closed under the ownership of the Nichols family after a long run. The Nichols’ actually purchased the diner from its original owner back in 1957 and almost immediately they converted it to use as a Cocktail Lounge/Bar. The backbar was removed along with all the cooking equipment and the original ventilation hood when it became the cocktail lounge. It was operated this way right up until around 1989 when the family sold it. During the time period from 1989-1994 it was operated by at least 2 different entities, one of which was a Tex-Mex place called the Cuckoo’s Nest. At that point a couple of more changes were made to the already altered interior. The original stainless steel covered refrigerator was removed and the left end of the counter was chopped off. When the place closed circa 1994, the new owners defaulted on the mortgage that was held by the Nichols family. The Nichols’ ended up getting the diner back thru land court at this point. The diner had gotten a slightly bad reputation and the Nichols’ decided that it was time to bring the building back as a true diner.

Rosebud-with-Bill-&-Nicky_1995
Bill and Nicky Nichols on Grand Reopening day, February, 1995 at the
Rosebud Diner –  photo by Larry Cultrera

So the family spent a few months cleaning up the interior by refinishing the original woodwork getting some used wooden booths that were not too different than what had been there originally as well as installing a new left end of the counter. They also refurbished the neon sign on the roof. The menu from 1995 to now had been slightly upscale but the diner was now serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. The back room which had operated as another space variously as an upscale Italian Restaurant, Night Club and eventually a venue for live music acts and bar & grill since 1995. About a year and a half ago rumors started flying that the diner was for sale. The first rumors never panned out but more recently the word got out that a guy named Marty Bloom was in the running to buy the place. Bloom had started the successful chain of upscale restaurants called Vinny Testa’s (later known as Vinny T’s) and eventually sold the chain and started other venues. Bloom’s reported plans for the diner have not sounded like he wants to retain the interior character unfortunately. He does say the exterior will remain the same and as I believe, the fact that the diner is listed in the National Register of Historic Places will not protect it from being altered. So I guess the future of this classic diner remains to be seen.

Back in March, Glenn Wells and Mike Engle decided they wanted to make a trip out from the Albany area to check out the Rosebud one last time. They were joined by myself, David Hebb, Gary Thomas and Bob Marville on March 3, 2013 and we all had breakfast. We kibitzed with Billy Nichols and Helen DeFransisco and shot some photos, etc.

Rosebud-1_3-3-2013
Left to right, Larry Cultrera, Glenn Wells (in back), David Hebb, Mike Engle, Gary Thomas and Bob Marville at the Rosebud Diner. March 3, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

I have been friends with Billy Nichols for around 30 years. Along with my friendship, I have actually designed the logo for their coffee mugs as well as a breakfast menu and 2 post cards for the diner. I actually had one last meal about 3 weeks ago on a Friday night and the diner closed after the day of business on Sunday May 26, 2013. I got an email this past Saturday morning from Dick Gutman who had placed a link for  a Craigslist ad  to a yard sale at the diner. They were selling off various and sundry things like dish ware, pots and pans, etc. Denise and I stopped by for one last visit.

Rosebud-with-Bill-&-Nicky_2013
Bill and Nicky Nichols on Saturday June 1, 2013 at the Rosebud Diner
 photo by Larry Cultrera

RoseBud-Diner-3_6-1-2013
 Rosebud Diner during yard sale, June 1, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

I’ll be keeping in touch with Billy Nichols and wish him well along with Helen DeFransisco, his dad Gally and brother Nicky. I hope the diner does not get trashed too bad, but I guess that will remain to be seen.

Rosebud Diner soon to be sold

New-Rosebud-PC-front

I was talking with Bill Nichols of the Rosebud Diner of Somerville, Mass. within the last 2 weeks and he informed me that the diner was going to be sold he estimated sometime in March. He also said not to advertise it and I of course told him I would not. Well with a piece published from the Somerville Patch this morning (http://somerville.patch.com/articles/rosebud-diner-to-get-new-owner-updated-look-and-food) it looks like the cat is actually out of the bag. Here is the piece written by Chris Orchard…

Rosebud Diner to Get New Owner, Updated Look and Food

Restauranteur Marty Bloom, who founded Vinny Testa’s, plans revamp the restaurant into something more contemporary while leaving the historic diner’s exterior untouched.

Marty Bloom, a local restaurateur who founded Vinny Testa’s and owns Mission Oak Grill in Newburyport, is close to cementing a deal to purchase Davis Square’s Rosebud Diner, according to Bloom, who attended a Somerville Licensing Commission meeting Wednesday night.

Bloom said the completed sale would likely become final sometime in late March or early April. He was at the Licensing Commission meeting to request the transfer of Rosebud’s alcohol, victualer and entertainment licenses to his company, a request the commission approved.

Bloom said he plans to leave the exterior of the diner untouched. “It’s iconic,” he told the commission, saying, “I have talked to the historic commission in depth” about the local landmark.

However, he plans to renovate the interior of the diner and the restaurant space behind the diner. He also plans to revamp the menu, he said.

“We’re going to be doing a big upgrade on it,” he told the commission, saying he wants to merge the diner and the restaurant area into one space, change the floor plan and update the kitchen and bathrooms. He’ll probably put in a new bar and stage, he said.

As for the menu, Bloom said he plans to serve food that’s “a little newer” and “contemporary.”

“Updating the classics,” he called it.

He cautioned that “this all could change” as plans for the diner evolve into something more definitive. Initially the restaurant would just see “minor renovations,” he said.

Rosebud would likely close for some time while renovations take place, Bloom said.

News of the sale comes about six months after reports surfaced that something was going on with the diner. In June, Somerville Scout had a conversation with Bill Nichols, son of Rosebud’s owner, Gally Nichols. The younger Nichols told the magazine his father was planning to close the diner. Gally Nichols later said the story was a rumor.

Rosebud Diner is definitely being sold

Back in February I posted a brief blurb about the possible sale of the Rosebud Diner of Davis Square in Somerville, Mass. At that time the news reports stated that the diner and property were being sold to Tasty Burger, a new chain of Hamburger joints in the Boston area. Well that deal never went thru and within 2 or 3 months another rumor reared its head that the diner was again possibly being sold by the Nichols family. I spoke with my buddy, Bill Nichols at that point and he said he was hearing these rumors but had no idea if his dad Gally Nichols was indeed selling the place or not.

Fast forward to yesterday afternoon when I called Billy just to shoot the breeze and the first thing he said was that his dad was selling the diner, to who, he did not know. He thought the deal might go thru sometime in the next month or so but could not be sure as he was not privy to any of the details. Billy seemed resigned to this fact and I could tell he was not happy. There was not much that I could say to him and to tell the truth, personally I am a little sad about this also. I can only hope whoever buys the diner understands what they have and hopefully keep the building intact and operating as a classic diner.

On another note, I am working on a new post that had to get put on hold due to problems with my regular desktop PC. I hope to have it back before the weekend and then I can finish the slide scanning I started for that post and get it up soon. I am also waiting to see a guest post I wrote for The History Press Blog online soon. I had heard it might be posted this week but I still haven’t seen it up to this point.

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…… https://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!

Notes from the Hotline, 01-14-2012

Classic Diners of Massachusetts Slide Presentation
January 23rd in Medford, Mass.

I will be doing a slide presentation based on my Classic Diners of Massachusetts book at the Medford Public Library on January 23, 2012. The presentation will be similar to the one I did for the Somerville Public Library with some modifications. These will include some images of diners from Medford’s past.

Here is the blurb the Library posted on their website….

Classic Diners of Massachusetts A Lecture by Larry Cultrera

Monday, January 23 at 7:00 p.m.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts was the birthplace of “night lunch wagon” manufacturing industry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These horse-drawn food carts eventually evolved into classic American diners. For many years, diner builders like the Worcester Lunch Car Company and J.B. Judkins Company operated in the Bay State, although few new diners opened for business after 1960. This left the state with a high concentration of some of the best-preserved diners built during the early to mid-twentieth century, including the Capitol Diner in Lynn, the Route 66 Diner in Springfield and Buddy’s Diner in Somerville.

Medford native Larry Cultrera is a diner historian and the author of the Diner Hotline blog. His new book Classic Diners of Massachusetts has just been released by the History Press.The Library is located at 111 High Street (Route 60) on-street parking as well as a small parking lot behind the building is available.

 

Rosebud Diner of Somerville, Mass. changing owners soon


Rosebud Diner postcard designed by Larry Cultrera

I got a phone call on January 1st from old friend Arthur Krim, a founding member of the Society for Commercial Archeology. It seems he was contacted by Kristi Chase of the Somerville Historical Comission who was concerned about the future of the Rosebud Diner. Arthur asked me if I had any knowledge of the possible sale of the diner, I told him that I had not heard anything. I last saw Bill Nichols (whose family owns the diner) back in November at my “Author Event” held at the Somerville Public Library and nothing was mentioned then. Arthur informed me that Kristi had heard from someone who stated he was in the process of purchasing the Rosebud and wanted to change or alter the neon sign on the roof. I told Arthur that I would look into the situation.

I called Bill Nichols shortly after talking with Arthur and asked him what was happening. He said everything was fine and that he knew nothing about any changes concerning the diner. So I thought, well maybe this was just a rumor. The next day I called Kristi Chase and she in turn reitierated what she told Arthur and the news sounded credible. Because the diner is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Historical Commission needs to be informed on possible changes to listed properties. Well I called Bill back and told him what was said. Needless to say he was surprised and a little upset, it seems his dad  was selling the diner and had not yet informed him.

I again contacted Bill this past week after he had spoken with his dad who told him that someone had approached him with an offer to by the building/business. Bill says he is not sure of the actual timeline but estimates the change in ownership will happen possibly within the next month or month and  half. I am sad for this change and hope that nothing drastic happens to this long-time landmark in my life.

 

Glenn Wells’s RoadsideFans website migrates to WordPress

Good friend, colleague and occasional road trip buddy Glenn Wells received a nice Christmas present from his stepson Ray Milstrey, an updated website/blog. Ray also created the old RoadsideFans website, but now that the site has migrated to WordPress, it will become interactive. Here is what Glenn says about the move……

The new RoadsideFans.com is a WordPress blog, and if that seems familiar, it’s because several other roadside-related web sites already use WordPress – Diner Hotline, Retro Roadmap, Diner Hunter, and Lincoln Highway News among them. As with the others, visitors to RoadsideFans will now have a chance to leave comments – simply click the arrow at the top right and scroll down to the bottom of the posting. There will probably be more new features yet to come as I become more familiar with WordPress.

You will find several features from the old web site on the new RoadsideFans.com. By clicking FEATURES on the bar above, you can access the Howard Johnson’s, barbecue chicken, and Taconic Parkway features from the old web site. However, the Online Diner Tours and some other photo features from the old site have been retired. Most of these were a decade or more old, and many of the places no longer exist or have changed names. I am considering uploading the pictures to a Flickr account to maintain the historical record. 

I want to congratulate Glenn on the updated website and wish him good luck. I know I have enjoyed using wordpress for Diner Hotline! You can find a link to RoadsideFans in my blogroll as well as here….
http://www.roadsidefans.com/

Diner Hotline marking 30 Years of documenting Diners!

I always consider the weekend of Thanksgiving, specifically the Saturday after the Holiday, the anniversary of when I tentatively shot my first 35mm photo of a Diner. The actual date is November 29th (this coming Monday) but who’s counting? Me of course! It seems almost unbelievable that 30 years has gone by since that gray Saturday in Harrisburg, PA. I was with my brother Rick and old friend Scott Drown and we were visiting Steve Repucci whom we had helped moved to H’Burg the previous Labor Day Weekend.

The three of us had driven down from Massachusetts the day before and as I recall, our route down took us out I-90 to I-86 (a few years later I-86 was to be absorbed by I-84 in MA & CT), then I-84 all the way out to Scranton, PA, where we headed south on I-81.

I also recall the highway was shrouded in the thickest fog I have ever driven through, between Scranton and Harrisburg! I am glad it was the middle of the day, still it was one of the scariest rides I have ever been on!

Anyway, I do not recall what we did that Friday after we got down to Harrisburg but I know the next morning we drove down the street from where Steve and his room-mate Ed Womer were residing to the Bypass Diner on Herr Street (Rte. 22 bypass) in Harrisburg for breakfast. After the meal we went outside and I took out the old 35mm Mamiya camera and shot a photo from the left front of the diner.


Bypass Diner, Harrisburg, PA – Nov. 29, 1980 photo by Larry Cultrera
The diner has been operating for many years as the American Dream Diner

That is my 1979 blue Chevy Van in the parking lot. I drove that 271,000 miles between April of 1979 and December of 1988 and needless to say, a huge portion of that mileage (and time) was spent hunting Diners!

Since that day I have shot probably into the thousands of photos of diners throughout the northeast states as far down as Virginia and Tennessee, (skipped the Carolinas) and been able to document at least one in Georgia (Marietta Diner, Marietta) and then down to Florida to shoot a few more. I’ve also documented diners as far west as Ohio, Michigan and Illinois. According to my database diner log I have documented 815 diners with negative, slide and digital photography.

I have met some interesting people in the last 30 years including Richard & Kellie Gutman, John Baeder, David Hebb, Brian Butko, Randy Garbin, Glenn Wells, Mike Engle and Beth Lennon. I also want to acknowledge Diner owners who have become close friends…. Bob Fennell of the Capitol Diner,  Lynn, Mass. and Bill Nichols of the Rosebud Diner, Somerville, Mass. and Phil Paleologos of the Shawmut Diner, New Bedford, Mass.

I cannot forget to include the late Warren Jones, former owner of the Apple Tree Diner of Deham, Mass. as well as the late Owen Abdalian, former owner of the Main Street Diner of Woburn, Mass. who each passed away way too early and hold a special place in my memories.

Most of all I also want to acknowledge my wonderful wife Denise, who puts up with me, the collection of memorabilia and the obsession! Hopefully, I will continue this quest and be able to document more diners, although the long road trips have dwindled to a very few as years have gone by, and I will continue my efforts of passing along info to you my faithful readers with this blog, Diner Hotline!

Disclaimer: to be clear, this is not the 30th anniversary of the creation of Diner Hotline, just the 30th anniversary of shooting my first Diner photograph, the beginning of my efforts to document the American Diner, which of course spawned the creation of Diner Hotline in 1988 – LAC