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!

In Memoriam, Cliff Brown, owner of Miss Albany Diner

I was saddened to learn that old friend Cliff Brown had passed away on Monday, November 1st. Cliff was the owner along with his wife Jane of the wonderful Miss Albany Diner since 1988. I had heard from various people that Cliff was sick but I guess I did not know how far along his illness was.


Cliff Brown conversing with customers at the Miss Albany Diner

It was always a pleasure to stop in at the Miss Albany and talk with Cliff. Even though I personally live at least 3 hours away from the Empire State’s Capitol city, Cliff made you feel at home and treated you like you were a regular customer!

Here is what Cliff’s son Bill posted on the Miss Albany Diner’s Facebook page Monday……

Early this morning, November 01, 2010, Clifford H. Brown, owner of the Miss Albany Diner passed away at his home in his own bed. Before he died, he became part of the Anatomical Gift Program at Albany Medical Center so his body could be used for training the next generation. A memorial service will be announced in the future. In accordance with Cliff’s wishes, the diner will remain open as usual.

Diner Hotline would like to extend condolences to Jane and Bill Brown on their loss. Cliff was one of the greatest!

Notes from the Hotline, 11-14-09

New York Diner News

This has been posted on numerous sites including RoadsideOnline and Roadside Fans Yahoo Group but I need to get on the bandwagon as well. It was reported this week that two legendary diners from Albany, NY are being put up for sale by their respective long-time owners. There was also news of a “changing of the guard” at an iconic New York City diner this week as well.

Miss Albany Diner

The first of the two Capitol District Diners to be on the block is Cliff and Jane Brown’s Miss Albany Diner. Cliff is right up there in my book (along with Phil Paleologos of New Bedford’s Shawmut Diner) as being one of the most affable and enthusiastic owners I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. The Brown’s have been running the Miss Albany for 20 years interestingly after having retired from previous positions in other careers.

MAD1

 Here is the text of a story that appeared in the Albany Times Union on November 12th…

Diner for sale, hold the change

The Miss Albany Diner owners ready to retire, but hope their classic fare remains eternal

MAD2

The diner, like the neighborhood, draws all types: Yuppies and factory workers, rich and poor, old-timers and hipsters — all in search of a cup of coffee, a warm meal and… “A friend,” Jane says. “They just need somebody to listen to them.”

The Browns this year are celebrating their 20th year as owners of the Miss Albany. But Cliff is 82 and Jane is 75 — and they’re eager to move on. Their son Bill, the restaurant’s cook, isn’t interested in taking over. The Browns are looking for the right person to take the diner into its next phase. Jane Brown says the business is profitable, though it has hardly made the couple rich.

“I will miss the people,” she says. “I will not miss the work.” The Miss Albany is adjacent to Wolff’s Biergarten, the popular nightspot. And its owner, Matt Baumgartner, is one of the diner’s big fans. “Anytime I have friends visit that’s one of my go-to places,” he said. “And everybody leaves loving it.”

The Miss Albany was built in 1941 and remains authentic to its time — so authentic that it received a preservation award from the Historic Albany Foundation, which noted that diner has never undergone a character-robbing remodeling. It has kept its charm. “It just feels like a good, old-fashioned diner,” Baumgartner said. “They don’t make diner cars like that anymore.”

Chris Churchill can be reached at 454-5442 or cchurchill@timesunion.com. Read his blog at http://blog.timesunion.com/realestate

MAD3

Although it is sad to hear that the Brown’s will no longer be a part of this diner experience in the Capitol District in the near future, they certainly are due a well deserved retirement and we wish them all of our best wishes.

Jack’s Diner

The second of the two Capitol District Diners reported this week to be for sale is Jack’s Diner at 547 Central Ave., a well maintained and rare Comac Diner run by Jack Murtagh (who is only the second owner) business is on the market for $175,000, because Jack is retiring after 44 years in the business.

jacks.gif

Empire Diner

Empire-NYC-1

It was also reported this week that NYC’s Empire Diner will be changing operators. Apparently the lease was up for renewal and the long-time operators lost out to owners of a very popular coffee shop from Union Square. This was the text of a small piece from the Gothamist website…..

The iconic Empire Diner in Chelsea is being taken over by the team that operates the obnoxiously fashionable but beautifully staffed Coffee Shop in Union Square. The owner of the property will not be renewing the lease with Renata Gonzalez, who’s operated the classic diner for over three decades. Instead, the Gotham City Restaurant Group will replace Gonzalez with a 15-year lease rumored to be in the $25,000 per month range. Gonzalez says she’s trying to get the new owner to keep some of the current employees, some of whom have been there for as long as her, but that seems unlikely. The name’s changing too, but that hasn’t been revealed yet.

Coffee Shop co-owner Carolyn Benitez tells Chelsea Now the diner will still operate 24/7, but she’s planning on radically reinventing the menu: “It’s a diner in feel, and that’s what appeals to us. It’s not going to have any other identity except being a great old diner with better food.” She’s promising “better ingredients and better quality production,” as well as “that Coffee Shop flavor,” which we interpret as ‘higher prices and hot but aloof servers.’ Oh well, at least we’re not losing it to Alabama.

As I understand it, Renata Gonzalez took over ownership from Jack Doenias who was credited with the transformation of this 1946 Fodero diner into the world’s first upscale diner in 1976. Also, Renata had ties with Thomas Feucht who is the founder of the Sam Kullman’s Diners, a chain in Germany.

It is a little upsetting to hear the new operators are going to change the name of the diner. We hope the other changes alluded to will not destroy this landmark diner.