Ghosts of the West Side Highway

Busted windows and graffiti mar the streamline of the Kullman car

An abandoned 1950s diner on the West Side Highway.

New York City isn’t known for its roadside attractions or its motor inns, but along the West Side Highway, you can still find shades of the open road.  What could be more emblematic of the highway state of mind than the diner, whose very contours suggest forward motion, gleaming like hubcaps across the American landscape?  Abandoned between auto repair shops and a gentlemen’s club, the diner at 357 West Street fully commits to the mystery and isolation only hinted at in Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, (which was based on a nearby diner in Greenwich Village.)  Today, the only travelers this diner entertains are pedestrians who can’t resist taking a peek inside…

The lost diner interior was recently gutted, the result of vandalism.

The wrecked interior of the “Lost Diner”

The entrance

Garbage piled up near the front entrance.

The restaurant closed in 2006 after 50 years of operation, having gone through a steady succession of owners and names, including the Terminal Diner, the Lunchbox Diner, Rib, and perhaps most fittingly, the Lost Diner.  Constructed by the New Jersey-based Kullman Diner Car Company, the structure is typical of the Art-Deco diner cars manufactured in the 40s and 50s, which have since become an iconic fixture of cities across America.  Most of Manhattan’s once numerous diners have been demolished or moved in recent years; you can still visit Soho’s famous Moondance Diner—in Wyoming.  The steep decline in the condition of the Lost Diner limits its chance of being relocated.

Someone had recently been living here.

The walls have been stripped of valuable scrap metal by vandals.

A bathroom

“Employees Must Wash Hands”

An old pantry

An empty pantry at the back of the diner car.

Once part of the kitchen, stripped of all appliances.

A kitchen hallway stripped of appliances.

Throughout the space, a steady rush of traffic fills the air in the absence of clinking silverware.  Sunlight bounced from a passing windshield momentarily dazzles an aluminum ceiling.  In the dining room, shattered glass joins a host of reflective surfaces, causing the room to glimmer with points of light in the evening.  In the past year, the windows of the diner have been knocked out and the interior has been ravaged.  Old mattresses, fresh garbage, and a homemade toilet point to a recent, if not ongoing habitation.  Stacks of rotting food cartons fill an overturned refrigerator, covered with the husks of long-dead pests.  In the former kitchen, a dry erase board lists celery seed, walnut oil, and Windex for a shopping trip that was doomed to be this diner’s last.

the keller hotel sign

The Keller’s noteworthy “HOTEL”  sign.

Down the road, the abandoned Keller Hotel makes a perfect counterpart to the Lost Diner, another vacant holdout in a neighborhood that’s quickly being overcome by luxury developments.  The six story hotel was completed in 1898 as a lodging for travelers arriving from nearby ferries and cruise ships.  By the 1930s, the area had become one of the most active sections of the port of New York, and the building became a flophouse for sailors.  Later, the club downstairs catered to New York’s gay community as the oldest “leather bar” in the West Village.  The Keller Hotel was landmarked in 2007, but has stood unoccupied for decades.  When and if the building is renovated, here’s hoping the slightly sinister “HOTEL” sign will be saved.

the south entrance

The south entrance, marked unsafe to enter.

the keller hotel

The abandoned Keller Hotel.




22 thoughts on “Ghosts of the West Side Highway

  1. I’m inclined to park and investigate the Lost Diner every time I pass it. Though I was living in NYC when it was still in operation I never made it to the part of town it sits in. Both the diner and Hotel buildings were the perfect discovery to read about this morning, Thank You for writing about them. One question, was the leather bar in the Keller the famous spot where Felipe Rose of the Village People was discovered dancing in his Tribal Regalia?


    Posted by Stephanie | 4-15-13., 1:47 pm
  2. Interesting, and I’d love to see pictures inside the old hotel, this kind of stuff is fascinating.

    One quibble though, that “Hotel” sign is not retro, retro is something new made to look old, the sign is actually old. It’s like my Studebaker pickup vs a Mini… my pickup is old, the Mini is retro.

    Keep up the good work!


    Posted by jeffdewitt | 5-12-13., 11:35 pm
  3. This kind of stuff is very fascinating, I wish there were more organized tours for this kind of stuff, I would be all over it. But I suppose some people would be upset for making the underground not so underground anymore.


    Posted by Ryan Flynn | 5-14-13., 12:44 pm
    • Touring these old, abandoned places might be problematic, considering that, to keep visitors safe, the city would have to spend money to insure that these places were still safe to enter, especially if people were allowed to visit upper floors.


      Posted by Chris M. | 7-26-19., 7:46 pm
  4. I’m heading to the diner tomorrow on my bike. Has anyone successfully gotten into the hotel, though? It seems interesting, but also much harder to get into. My issue is mostly legal, not about physical safety.


    Posted by roryminelor | 7-23-13., 12:36 am
  5. I was by the old diner a few weeks ago, and peering through the fence on the right, I noticed numerous mannequin heads scattered about, the type used by cosmetologists. Weird to say the least.


    Posted by Paul Sullivan | 8-10-13., 7:28 pm
  6. A friend of mine owned the Lost Diner at one point. Unfortunately, I think its off-the-beaten-path location kept even his friends from showing up much.


    Posted by T S | 3-18-14., 8:22 pm
  7. Oh this makes me a bit sad and nostalgic as I used to work around Houston and Hudson Street and had lunch at the Lost Diner all the time! Their meatloaf was amazing and we definitely all felt like we were jumping back in time when we would visit there. Probably the last time i was there was over 20 years ago. At least I can treasure those delicious memories! Thanks for your wonderful blog, I adore exploring things like this! alex


    Posted by oystergirl99 | 5-29-14., 2:12 am
  8. Hello !

    I thought that you might be interested by my blog entitled: NEW YORK IN THE 1990’s PHOTO ARCHIVES.
    It features hundreds of exclusive images of New York taken between 1991 and 1998.
    Images of lost landmarks, transformed locations and neighborhoods, street parties, the Meat Market and 42nd street, the old NY diners, signs and grafitti, New Yorkers and street scenes, Halloween, Gaypride, Wigstock…

    Kindest regards,


    Posted by gregoire alessandrini | 8-16-14., 6:05 pm
  9. According to Bing Maps, this was the Reel Diner.


    Posted by Linda Board | 8-26-14., 5:03 am
  10. Will, thanks for your great blog, I’ve been a fan of it for a while now. This last Monday and Tuesday my wife and I were in NYC visiting from Phoenix, AZ (she’d never been to NYC and the last time I was there I was all of five years old….I’m now 47!) and at the beginning of day one we took one of the bus tours that circle down/mid-town Manhattan to get the lay of the land before our miles and miles of walking. As we were coming up the west side I turned and saw this diner for all of about two seconds as we were passing and I blurted out “Hey!! I’ve seen that diner before!” remembering your article. My wife even commented on the hotel as we passed it…I’d almost forgotten it was in the article too.


    Posted by Brian | 10-24-14., 4:48 pm
    • That’s a great story! Glad you caught the diner, it is tough to spot from the road. I heard it’s getting demolished soon, too bad. Hope you enjoyed the rest of your trip.


      Posted by Will Ellis | 10-24-14., 6:03 pm
      • I probably would’ve missed it except for two facts: the tour had a pause down on Battery Place so the wife and I decided to switch our seats from the left (driver’s) side to the right for the second half of the tour and we were on the second level of an open-topped bus so I had a perfect viewpoint. I thought it was quite fun to (albeit very, very briefly) get to see something I’d seen on your site while visiting. We’re both also big Anthony Bourdain fans and on the first half of the tour I had almost the exact same experience of glancing left (instead of right this time) and catching a fleeting glimpse of Les Halles down one of the streets we were passing 🙂 All in all a fantastic trip and neither of us can wait to go back and spend much, much more time exploring.


        Posted by Brian | 10-24-14., 7:15 pm
  11. does anyone know if the lost diner is still standing today?


    Posted by Anonymous | 2-26-16., 12:57 am


  1. Pingback: Inside The West Side Highway's Lost Diner | Untapped Cities - 5-6-13.

  2. Pingback: The abandoned Keller Hotel on the West Side Highway - Doobybrain.com - 8-27-13.

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