The diner's demise
This week I take up the subject of the demise of the American diner. There are lots of reasons why this is happening, which I didn’t have space to examine in my column.
In the big cities the problem is rents. from big-city rents -- Chicago’s fondly remembered Cambridge Inn at Ohio and St. Clair in Streeterville, which closed in 2010, was never going to match what a bank branch, or fast food joint can pay for that space -- to microwaves and the demise of the downtown and the rooming house and the spread of the on-the-go culture.
Mainly, diners are dying because us diners are dying, Diners appeal mainly to old people and people who live old people’s lives. People who go alone to diners sit and read or they think. People who go with other people go to talk. All three demand quiet, something restaurants of all other types no longer offer. (I considered the plague of music in restaurants in “Foreground music,” Dec. 5, 2013.) Consider this: Ever try to count how many American movies are at least partly set in diners? You can’t count that high. Why is that, when so few actual Americans spend time in such places? Because movie-makers need places where people can talk, and a diner is the best place for that.
But younger people don’t talk – indeed, if you’ve attempted conversation, many of them can’t talk. They prefer to text, and you can text anywhere.
Among the articles on the topic I found worth reading is Greg Donaldson’s 2014 exploration in New York magazine, “The Death of the Diner: What’s killing the cheeseburger deluxe?”
Also worth a nibble or two is John Kass’s 2006 lament about the Cambridge House in Chicago.