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 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.
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.
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.