16 April 2008

The Germans Must Have a Word for It; or, Will the Sunview Rise Again

One of the hazards of writing a blog like this, forever trolling the City with an eye out for the worthwhile corners of New York that are on their way out or hanging on by their fingernails, is that some days you become so sodden with grief that you begin lamenting not only the places you knew and loved and are now gone forever, but also shops and stores that you never even knew in the first place, but discovered too late. Is there a word for missing something you never had? It's sort of like running to catch a train at Grand Central and getting there just as it's pulling out of the station. You'll never know, but you just have a feeling life would have been that much better if you had only made that train.

Which brings us to the Sunview Luncheonette. What's left of it stands at the corner of Russell and Nassau in Greenpoint. It was founded in 1963 by a Greek couple. The rusted sign says "Sunview" nowhere. It says only "Luncheonette" and then "Fountain." (Fountain!) It also says "Coca-Cola." I peered through the dirty windows of the Sunview for the first time only last weekend. I couldn't get in. It was closed by the Health Department last September. A health notice in the window is scrawled over with the message "The Greeks will be back!"

The scene inside made my heart ache. A classic long counter with a row of round, backless stools. A shining stainless steel prep area. Old Pepsi menu boards hanging from the wall, listing the the menu's items and low, low prices. (Burgers are a buck fifty or something.) A tin ceiling. A ceiling fan. On the right wall a line of booths. And—Holy Sweet Jesus!—two wooden phone booths side by side in perfect condition. It was peerless. It was perfect.

How could it be that I could not enter? How could I have found out about this place only after the DOH made it a victim of its face-saving crusade in the wake of the KFC-Taco Bell-rat fiasco?

Surveying the internet, I found people had only good things to say about the diner and it's owners, Lou and Dimitria, who for some reason is known to patrons at Bea. I found a phone number for the Sunview and, even though the place was clearly closed, called. I guess I wanted to determine if the line was in service. If it was, there was still hope.

I was shocked when someone picked up—an old woman with a soft, frail voice. After a few moments, I realized this was Bea herself. And though I had disturbed her, and brought up a sore subject ("Will the diner reopen?"), she was in a talking mood. She said the place may open up again one day, but "not by me." At first, I thought that meant she was through with the business and the Sunview would never see another dawn. Then I understood that she was looking for a new person to run the restaurant. And then I uncovered that that someone had come along and was actually planning to the start up engines once more. Who? When? I don't know. It was a sad conversation and I didn't want to keep her.

I told her my desire to visit the Sunview just one time. She said she hoped I would very soon. So do I.


Sally Tomato said...

This looks like the place in 'French Connection'. Or maybe I'm wrong.

Nesta said...

"Is there a word for missing something you never had?"

I have this feeling all the time. For Lost New York, and for other things as well.

floyd5591 said...

I have been there many times. I used to live in Greenpoint on Sutton between Nassau and Driggs. Thie place was one of a kind and I was crushed when it closed. I am sad to see that Bea won't be back, and I hope that whoever takes over this place keeps it just the way it was...

NewYorkDave said...

Oh man, I love old-style luncheonettes like this. I can just picture myself sitting at that counter and ordering a lime rickey or a grilled cheese on rye.

Funny, I took luncheonettes for granted back when they were commonplace. Who knew?

Anonymous said...

No, Not the one in the french connection. that one was in Dumbo somewhere..many years ago. I have been in this area 100 times and have never seen it. It is perfect. There was one just like it on Henry street in Carroll Gardens. Then, the new pizza place ripped it allll out. It would be nice to see it back...again. Or maybe the guys who run Diner would like it. They won't destroy it. FYI there is a Diner museum in Pennsylvania. They save all this stuff from the dumpster.

Anna Dagmar said...

I wrote a song about this diner called, "Smile for Free!" I'd love to get in touch with you as I'm making a music video for the song and wondered about the photos you have here. I also have a blogspot: www.AnnaDagmarJournal.blogspot.com

-Anna Dagmar