Tom’s Diner

For the past three months I’ve been living in Brooklyn, in a very slowly gentrifying area between Crown Heights and Prospect Heights. Historically, I understand it to have been a largely West Indian neighborhood, though I’m not sure who was there before that. Presently there are more whites and young professionals slowly moving in, myself included though only passing through (gentrification in process). For me, it’s a blessing to live here — beautiful brownstones lining the streets and enough amenities within walking distance where I don’t feel like I have to break an arm and leg to find groceries, coffee shops, boutiques, and ethnic restaurants. Not to mention easy access to the Brooklyn Museum, Main Library, Botanical Garden and Prospect Park.

One of the coolest neighborhood spots I learned about is Tom’s Diner, located at the corner of Washington Ave and Sterling Place (it even has its own blog!). They serve excellent food, and you get to dine within an atmosphere of a traditional and authentic feel of a diner. The owners knew nearly everyone, young and old, walking in and out of the restaurant. You could sense that it was a place people cherished.

Suzanne Vega fans may already know that her song Tom’s Diner references this very diner. The song also appeared on the soundrack of 90’s flick ‘Untamed Heart’.

Tom’s Diner opened in 1936, and it is a testement for this restaurant to have remained a strong neighborhood establishment through all those years. I learned that in the wake of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, neighborhood residents and patrons held hands to protect the diner from the riots, looters and violence resulting from King’s death. Tom’s Diner is the kind of place that holds together the fabric of urban neighborhoods. These kind of places require an openess and generosity from the owners, who offer a place where individuals and families can commune. It’s the kind of place that keep communities intact and thriving, even through times of economic hardship or social unrest.

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  1. Aight, so here goes my confusion. First let me say I love Tom’s. Whenever in town I like to get myself a lime ricky, but there are some things that confuse me. Why is it Tom’s Restaurant but the Vega song is Tom’s Diner? I know they have the lyrics posted (in Brooklyn), but wouldn’t they be signed by Vega if this was the Diner in question? Also, so I know the restaurant in Manhattan that they used as a Seinfield facade is cited on the wikipedia page you reference and is the neon image you have, so what gives? Are those Tom’s realated? Aight, clearly I’ve thought about this a bunch and maybe you can shed some light on this for me…

  2. ah, you and your PhD questions. ;P

    Let me first admit that I *borrowed* the neon image from another online source, until I finally get my own shot of the restaurant’s facade. Guess I was too eager to post before I could include my own photo!

    I actually had similar questions to your’s…since you’ve been to the place in Brooklyn, you’ll see that the sing says “restaurant” and not “diner. But folks around here seem to call it Tom’s Diner, and I assume it’s because it’s got that vibe. I don’t really know what the deal is with Vega and not confirming, but I guess the connection to the song is more urban folk lore. And regarding the Seinfield connection: both facades are so similar to each other, with the corner signs and text. And both restaurants seem to be refered to as “diners”.

    So I guess I don’t really know the full answer to your questions (sorry!), perhaps a Brooklyn/Prospect Heights-bred person can shed some true light to all this.

    I think I really need to get that photo of the BK diner up so as to decrease to confusion!

  3. cool post. i’m coming out to brooklyn june 2nd–and staying in the crown heights/prospect heights area for a couple months 🙂

    i’ll give you a call when i get out there and get settled in a bit. looking forward to seeing you!

  4. Sabrina V

    I’m moving to NYC too, and possibly to Brooklyn. Well more likely Brooklyn because a lot of school openings are there. I’m going to be in NYC next weekend to neighborhood and apartment hunt. We should meet up. Lemme know your contact.

  5. hmm interesting I don’t get the same feeling from Honset?Johns…I wonder why?




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