Well, it’s that time of year where I mark the anniversary of taking my first 35mm photo of a diner. As regular readers of this blog know, that first Diner photo was the following photo…
By-Pass Diner of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
November 29, 1980 photo by Larry Cultrera
In looking back on these last decades there was an unofficial pattern of going on road trips over Thanksgiving weekend. So I did some digging and found some images of diners I had photographed on the Thanksgiving weekends in the years from 1980 until now. It seems there were actually only 10 of those weekends between 1980 and 2022. Now granted, on some of those weekends in the early 1980s that I photographed more than a handful of places, so I will only choose one diner from each of those trips to be representative from the year.
Olympia Diner, Newington, Connecticut
November 27, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera
Ed’s Diner, Brattleboro, Vermont
November 26, 1982 photo by Larry Cultrera
Market Diner, New York, New York
November 25, 1983 photo by Larry Cultrera
Libby’s Diner, Manchester Center, Vermont (never opened here)
November 27, 1987 photo by Larry Cultrera
Andros Diner, Belmont Massachusetts
November 27, 1993 photo by Larry Cultrera
Old Lunch Wagon /derelict cabin, Brookfield, Massachusetts
November 24, 2006 photo by Larry Cultrera
Roundabout Diner, Portsmouth, New Hampshire (former Howard Johnson’s Restaurant)
I have not done a “Notes from the Hotline” in quite some time and while starting to write this, I decided this format would be right for this particular post. First up on the agenda is news from my friend Roger Elkus, owner of Roger’s Redliner Diner in Portsmouth, New Hampshire…
Roger’s Redliner Diner of Portsmouth, New Hampshire closes due to end of lease…
Roger Elkus posted an announcement on his diner’s Facebook page that as of April 4, 2022 the diner was officially closed due to the end of the lease where the diner has operated since February of 2014. Roger told me it was a good run for the diner and even though it was a labor of love for him, he decided to concentrate on operating his other business – Me & Oliie’s Bakery Cafe in Exeter, New Hampshire, the remaining outlet for his original chain of bakery cafes.
Roger’s Redliner Diner has been the subject of a previous post or two and was featured in my New Hampshire Diners, Classic Granite State Eateries book (The History Press, 2014)… I will re-tell the story here about the history of this classic 1950 vintage diner….
Roger’s Redliner was originally named the Monarch Diner and was part of a “chain” started by the Decola brothers based in Waltham, Mass. The chain consisted of quite a few diners that traded under the “Monarch” name including several Massachusetts locations… the flagship Monarch was on Main Street in Waltham, Mass. (it is currently the Tilt’n Diner in Tilton, NH). There were other Monarch Diners located in Saugus, Mass. (now Martha’s Coventry Diner, Coventry, VT), Arlington, Billerica, Littleton and Woburn (all gone). The other Monarch Diners were located in Dover, NH (more recently Roger’s Redliner Diner), as well as Milford, NH (now gone). Other diners in this chain had traded under names such as the Bedford Diner of Bedford, Mass., as well as one (or both) of the Paradise Diners of Lowell, Mass. I first became aware of the Monarch Diners collecting diner postcards in the early 1980s. I obtained one for the Monarch Diner of Waltham and the image depicted that diner but also mentioned the Dover, NH location. As far as I knew, the Dover location was defunct by the time I obtained the postcard and I figured it did not exist anymore. I later learned that both diners were built in 1950 by the Jerry O’Mahony Diner Company and were very similar, pretty much the same size though the configuration on the interior was slightly different. The Monarch in Dover was serial number 2163-50 while the Monarch in Waltham was serial number 2179-50. Serial numbers for Jerry O’Mahony diners (when found) will always be 4 digits then a “dash” with the last 2 digits representing the production year. It seems the Decola’s leased or eventually sold their places to other people to run. The known operators that were associated with the Monarch in Dover were Fred & Irene Jewell.
By the time I started documenting diners, the only diner left in Dover to my knowledge was Stoney’s Diner (more recently the Sunny Day Diner, now operating as Arnold’s Wayside Diner in Lincoln, NH). It was not until March 12, 1989, on a surprise visit to an old friend Rick Clauson, who was living in Acton, Maine, that I found out the fate of the Monarch Diner from Dover. When my friend Steve Repucci and I showed up early on that Sunday afternoon, we talked for a while with Rick and his wife Dawn. After a period of time, Rick said “c’mon let’s take a ride, I have something to show you”. So we proceeded to drive heading east away from his house on a side road that was used by locals as a short cut into nearby Sanford. As we rounded a curve on Twombley Road, this large stainless steel diner sitting up on timbers came into view. We stopped to check the place out and I snapped a few photos.
The owner, Phyllis Neal, who lived in the house on the property where the diner was being stored was there and I approached her to ask about the diner. She proceeded to tell me that the diner had originally been located in Dover. I asked, was this the Monarch Diner? She answered in the affirmative and she invited us to take a look at the interior, which was accessed by a set of temporary stairs. We discovered that aside from it being used for storage in conjunction with her greenhouse business, the diner was surprisingly intact. Mrs. Neal told us that her husband had purchased the diner in 1968 after it had closed in Dover and moved it to downtown North Berwick, Maine. I have since found out through information gathered by the late Will Anderson for his 1995 self-published book “More Good Old Maine” that although they had originally thought about using the diner to sell flowers out of, the Neal’s changed their mind and decided to set it up and lease the diner to a lady named Lois Griffin who operated it as Lois’ Diner until late 1973.
The diner remained closed and vacant at the North Berwick location until the Neal family relocated it to their property in Sanford at 604 Twombley Rd. in 1986, where they began using it for storage. Even though I had been documenting diners with my photographs since 1980 and made quite a few friends who had been doing the same thing even longer, I found the fact interesting that none of us who followed diners were aware of this diner being in North Berwick. The only reason it may have been under the “diner radar” is the fact that it had been closed there since 1973.
A number of years later, Dave Pritchard of Salisbury, Mass. convinced Mrs. Neal to sell the diner to him. Pritchard already had the former Fasano’s Diner (aka, the Olympian Diner) from South Braintree, Mass. along with the Miss Newport Diner from Newport, VT and the Englewood Diner of Dorchester, Mass. being stored at his Aran Trading Co. Ltd., a Container, Truck and Trailer sales yard, in Salisbury. This would have been around the summer of 2004. In fact I was traveling back from seeing the newly installed Blast From The Past Diner in Waterboro, Maine on August 20, 2004 along Maine Route 4 if I remember correctly, when I was surprised to see the diner again, this time at a different location. I did not stop to photograph it, or even take note as to the location (still kicking myself to this day). But by my best guess, it was sitting on a trailer at the side of the road near the intersection of Morrills Mill Rd. and Rte. 4. Obviously it was being moved somewhere, as it turned out, to Salisbury and Dave Pritchard’s yard. Probably within a year or so of that sighting I again ran across it at Aran Trading Co. and photographed it there.
Roger Elkus ended up buying the former Monarch/Lois’ Diner from Dave Pritchard circa December of 2012. Around that time I was introduced to Roger by my friend Beth Lennon when we met him at Aran Trading to view the diner.
Within a few months Elkus secured a new home for the diner and had it moved in June 2013 to Southgate Shopping Plaza right next door to Water Country Water Park. The diner anchored a new wing of the reconfigured plaza just behind the branch of the First Colebrook Bank, which has frontage on U.S. Route 1. After months of setting it up and performing a fantastic restoration, as well as bringing the electrical and other amenities up to code, the diner was opened in February of 2014. There was a brief break in service a few years ago and the diner became the bakery for Elkus’ chain of Me & Ollie’s Cafes for a while before again operating with as the Redliner with a reduced menu.
After closing the diner this past April, Roger started trying to find someone who wanted to purchase it and move it from Portsmouth. We spoke early on and I recommended he try to contact Alex Ray of the Common Man Restaurants. Ray already had the Tilt’n Diner, the Route 104 Diner and the Airport Diner in his family of restaurants, as well as the two Hi-Way Diners at the Hooksett Welcome Centers on the Northbound and Southbound sides of Interstate 93. Coincidentally as mentioned above, the Tilt’n Diner was the second version of the original Monarch Diner (from Waltham, Mass.) and the sister to Roger’s Redliner. Roger attempted to leave messages via phone and email for Alex Ray but never got a response.
I received a message from a friend, Cliff Hodgdon on July 11th that he saw that the diner was being prepped for moving. He asked me if I knew anything about what was happening and I told him I would contact Roger Elkus to get the lowdown. I spoke with Roger and he told me how initially, he had been unsuccessful in trying to contact Alex Ray. But ironically, a friend of Ray’s who lived in the Portsmouth area had seen that the diner was for sale and was able to contact him. He sent photos and info about how to get in touch with Roger Elkus and shortly after, Roger received a message from Ray. They made arrangements for Ray to come and inspect the diner a few days later and Ray was impressed with the condition of the diner and decided to buy it.
The diner was moved from Portsmouth on July 14th to a storage location in Bow, NH. As I understand it, the diner will eventually be located adjacent to Alex Ray’s Common Man Restaurant in Lincoln, NH. As I mentioned previously, this diner was originally located in Dover, NH coincidentally diagonally across the street from Stoney’s Diner. If in fact the former Redliner does get relocated to Lincoln, it will be right around the corner from Arnold’s Wayside Diner, the former Stoney’s Diner! I hope to be following up on how this continuing saga will end up and report on this in the near future!
Bishop’s 4th Street Diner of Newport, Rhode Island forced to close due to a proposed redevelopment of its site…
Dan Lederer of the Newport Daily News reported late in 2021 that Bishop’s 4th Street Diner was slated to close because that although Steve & Vicki Bishop own the diner itself, a modular 1950 vintage Jerry O’Mahony dining car with attached kitchen and additional dining space, they do not own the land it sits on. That belongs to Colbea Enterprises, which also owns the Shell Gas Station next door to the diner. Colbea Enterprises, doing business as East Side Enterprises, LLC has its own vision for the land. It includes a proposed expansion of the gas station, along with the Seasons convenience store and a car wash.
Here is a short history of this diner, It was originally delivered and installed along U.S. Route 6 in Swansea, Massachusetts. It operated from circa 1950 or so as The Princeton Diner here before it was moved to Newport by 1967. When I found it on an early Diner Hunting trip on June 19, 1982, it was still operating as the Princeton Diner.
When I visited the diner on another trip in May of 1986, it was operating as the Galley Diner. According to a quote by Steve Bishop, It continued operating as The Galley Diner until Tish Warner bought the restaurant in 1989 and ran it with her daughters, she called it The 4th Street Diner. Newport’s Third Street is just around the corner, but in actuality, there is no Fourth Street.
Warner owned the diner until 1998, when Bishop and his then wife, Nancy, bought it and modified the name to Bishop’s 4th Street Diner. They operated it together until about 2008. After a divorce, Nancy Bishop ran the diner alone until 2018, when Steve Bishop and his current wife, Vicki, bought the business and took over its operation. I last visited the diner to eat breakfast on a long weekend on October 9, 2004 and got my first digital photos of it as Bishop’s 4th Street Diner. As I recall I had Rhode Island Johnny Cakes for breakfast!
As to the current situation of this diner, Colbea purchased the property in the beginning of 2020, with the intention of expanding the gas station, only giving the Bishops a four-month lease, and then renting the space month-to-month after March 2020. Then this past November, Colbea alerted the Bishops that they would have to be off the property by the end of January 2022. The Bishops had previously rented the lot from Paul Miller before Colbea, and had a similar tenant agreement. A few months ago, a judge ruled that the Bishops could keep the diner open until August when they then would need to vacate the premises.
I have been following the news blurbs since the end of last year and been in contact with co-owner Vicki Bishop. In fact Ms. Bishop got in contact with me to ask if I knew how much the diner weighed. Vicki and her husband Steve were planning on trying to save the diner by putting the building up for sale and prospective buyers would need to know how much the building weighed for moving purposes. I actually contacted Roger Elkus of Roger’s Redliner as his diner was virtually the same age and size as Bishop’s and he already had paid to transport his diner from Salisbury, Mass. to Portsmouth, NH a few years earlier. Roger told me the estimated weight came to approximately 60,00 pounds, which I relayed to Vicki Bishop.
Now here we are in August and the closing date for the diner was announced to be August 14th. This past Sunday, the 7th, Denise and I decided to take a small road trip down to Newport so we could have one last meal at the diner. I shot a couple of interior photos as well as four exterior ones to commemorate this last visit.
As I finish writing this blog, the diner is closing today and we wish Steve & Vicki Bishop all the best in their future endeavors. Also, there is news of a highly good possibility some people from New Hampshire are extremely interested in purchasing the diner. We hope that this comes to pass and that the diner will be moved to a new location in the Granite State. If this happens, there will be three 1950 vintage Jerry O’Mahony diners of similar style and size eventually operating in the state. That would be the Tilt’n Diner, the former Roger’s Redliner Diner (at its new location in Lincoln) and Bishop’s 4th Street wherever that gets relocated.
I have another Author Event for my New Hampshire Diners book is slated for the New Hampshire Seacoast area, tomorrow – August 15th at the Barnes & Noble store at Fox Run Crossings, 45 Gosling Road (The Crossings), Newington, NH 03801 – Phone Number (603) 422-7733 or go online for directions. It is about a mile from the Portsmouth Traffic Circle convenient to U.S. Route 1, I-95 and NH Rtes. 4 & 16
The event is from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM.
I have heard since they started advertising it last month with a display, they have sold a bunch of books. I emailed them this morning and they asked me to bring extra copies if I have them and they will reimburse me with new copies if we have to get into my stash!
Ironically I saw this diner along a stretch of road somewhere in southern Maine possibly 10 years later. I believe it was in transition and possibly on its way to Salisbury where it remained in storage until 2 weeks ago. Roger Elkus who is the owner of the “Me & Ollie’s Bakery/Cafe chain of southeastern NH along with his production manager Daryl McGann have plans to reopen the former Monarch Diner and operate it as Roger’s Redliner Diner. It will become an anchor of one end of the new section of Southgate Plaza shopping center being constructed on Lafayette Rd (U.S. Rte. 1) abutting Water Country water park. In fact, it looks like the building for the kitchen/rest rooms is actually part of the new addition to the shopping center. Basically the diner will be grafted to the front of that building. They have a lot of work to do to get this diner up and running again. All the windows need replacement glass and the exterior needs some sprucing up. All the original stripes (I am assuming they were red – possibly flex-glass reflective strips) are missing. These can easily be replaced with a red plastic or enamel strip and an entryway vestibule will need to be either recreated or a reasonable facsimile be built. Elkus and McGann are shooting for an opening in the Fall of this year. We wish them luck!
Roger’s Redliner Diner on site at the new location in Portsmouth, NH
June 23, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera
Close-up of Roger’s Redliner Diner. June 23, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera
Roger’s Redliner Diner showing the pad and piers supporting the structure
June 23, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera
Rear view showing the footing of the building the diner will be grafted on to.
June 23, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera
Seacoastonline.com had a piece on the proposed expansion of Gilley’s PM Lunch of Portsmouth, NH. Gilley’s is the last operating Lunch Wagon built by the Worcester Lunch Car Company, (WLC #744) and was originally built-in 1939 for Al Mac of Fall River, Mass. who operated it as the White House Cafe.
Al Mac sold the diner in 1941 to William Kennedy of Portsmouth, NH. The Worcester replaced a very old (and rare) Closson Lunch Wagon (built in upstate New York). It operated for many years as Kennedy’s Lunch Wagon before being renamed for Ralph “Gilley” Gilbert who was the long-time night shift man at the old Lunch Wagon.
A few years ago the diner was modified with the addition of a utility trailer that was accessed by a new door cut into the wall where the former “take-out” window was located. This became much-needed kitchen and storage space. According to the Seacoastonline.com piece, now that the diner is more of a permanent fixture, it does not meet code and licensing guidelines.
Here is the text of the story by Charles McMahon…
Gilley’s eatery plans an update
Health department requires changes
PORTSMOUTH — Gilley’s PM Lunch, the iconic downtown diner/late night burger joint, is slated for a face-lift. According to plans on file with the city, the popular eatery owned by Steven and Gina Kennedy is scheduled to go before the city’s Planning Board on Thursday.
Listed under Robert and Pearl Revocable Trust, the application is for site plan approval to construct a one-story, 365-square-foot addition to the existing structure at 175 Fleet St. Steven Kennedy said Monday he was unable to comment about the application, but paperwork on file with the city’s Planning Department indicates the scheduled construction involves a variety of kitchen improvements mandated by the city’s Health Department.
City health officer Kim McNamara said her department made the request for improvements based on a complaint from a concerned patron. McNamara said the complaint was not related to food handling and was not a “negative” one, but drew attention to a problem with the existing facility. Calling the owners “very cooperative,” McNamara said the problem involved the fact that the business was originally licensed as a mobile unit, which she said involves different requirements than a full-time restaurant facility.
An inspection of the business found clean working conditions, McNamara said. It also revealed the facility was far out of code regarding its refrigeration equipment and the fact it did not have an employee bathroom. McNamara said the business needed “significant upgrades” involving the installation of new commercial refrigeration equipment of adequate size.
Given the small footprint at Gilley’s, McNamara said the business did not have enough room for the new equipment as well as an employee bathroom. McNamara said the city conducts a license renewal on July 1 annually. Gilley’s would not have been re-licensed without proper plans to address the deficiencies, she said. “We very much don’t want to harm Gilley’s business in any way,” she said.
Plans on file with the city indicate the project will involve a 22-by-26-foot expansion to accommodate the inclusion of a new cooking area, an employee bathroom that is handicap accessible, an office and a grease trap. The cost of the project is estimated to be around $60,000 and will involve no increase in seating capacity. The project already has gained approval from the city’s Historic District Commission and Technical Advisory Committee. The TAC voted unanimously to approve the application on May 4, but included three stipulations:
Removal of a truck body that rests behind the business. The truck body is part of the original truck that towed the diner when it was a mobile hot dog cart.
The addition of an automated grease trap removal unit in the kitchen area, rather than an underground tank.
A construction management plan must be prepared and approved by the city prior to a building permit being issued.
The business was established in 1912. According to Gilley’s Web site (www.gilleyspmlunch.com), the lunch cart was built in 1940 by the Worcester Diner Co. of Worcester, Mass. It’s named after longtime employee Ralph “Gilley” Gilbert, who died in 1986. In its early years, the diner was hauled into Market Square each evening and parked in front of the North Church in preparation for the evening’s business. The diner was originally towed by horse, then tractor and finally by the truck currently on the property. Gilley’s was moved to its present location in June 1974, and its last-known improvement was a wing added to the cart in May 1996.