When the St. Clair diner, at the corner of Smith and Atlantic, underwent a renovation a few years back, the owners uncovered an old metal sign beneath the newer signage. They didn't tear down the old sign, just covered it up with the even newer signage. At the time, I wondered when I'd ever seen the hidden original sign again.
Well, I didn't have to wait long. The new signage has been taken down, and the inside gutted. Signs in the window say the St. Clair is being renovated again. But in three months, I've never seen any work going on inside. The diner is gone for good. The space was bought by Joe Sitt of Thor Equities, the guy who destroyed Coney Island. It's supposed to reopen as a retail outlet.
This is a shame. Though it never looked like much, the St. Clair is one of the oldest businesses in South Brooklyn. It opened 92 years ago. Almost nothing in the immediately area (maybe Staubitz Butchers) comes close. Jonathan Letham, the novelist who grew up nearby, has paid tribute to it. "The St. Clair restaurant has been here forever," he said in a 2003 New York Times article. "It's a very, very typical New York diner. People will say, 'Oh, we don't have a Greek diner.' They don't realize this is here. It's been here so long that it's totally invisible; no one sees it. So then a new Greek diner opens up down the street and it's exactly the same and all the hipsters go there for cheap eggs."
While there's been a diner here since 1920, it seems it was called the St. Clair only since 1967. It was run by the Costa family from that year until 2007, when Spiro Katehis bought it and gave it an overhaul.
Knowing Sitt, I expect this time he will rip down the old sign and toss it in the trash.