The Elm City Diner

Today’s Zippy takes us to New Haven CT in times past:


The Elm City has changed over the years, but here’s a photo of it roughly as it is in the comic strip:


It hasn’t looked like this for some time. Here’s the beginning of a 11/27/94 column in the NYT, “Dining Out: From Art Deco Chrome to Indian Eatery”┬áby Patricia Brooks:

Evidence of the organic changes that occur in a city is the metamorphosis of the Elm City Diner, a longtime New Haven landmark, into an Indian restaurant called Tandoor.

Everything that endeared the downtown site to Art Deco fans is still in place: the gleaming chrome and glass interior, the booths (now covered with pink tablecloths and Indian designs under glass) and the diner configuration.

The big changes are the menu, personnel and aromas of cardamom, cumin and other Asian spices that permeate the air. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, a brunch is served, and the diner counter is spread with a buffet of assorted hot and cold dishes, eight in all, for $6.95.

(The old Elm City was apparently an upscale eating establishment as well as an Art Deco gem.)

4 Responses to “The Elm City Diner”

  1. Alex Says:

    I was a regular customer at the Elm City Diner in the early 90s (it was my standard spot for late-night coffee and onion rings during my first year of grad school). At the time, almost all of the wait staff were gay men.

    When it was first turned into an Indian restaurant, they had a transition period of about six months where half of the menu was classic American diner food and the other half was Indian food, presumably as an effort to keep the old clientele coming in.

  2. Marc, aka "Molly" to some Says:

    Arnold, thanks for sharing this photo and post. You’ve taken me down Memory Lane (and Chapel Street)! This time not in a drunken stupor like so many of us back then. I was fortunate to have worked at the notorious Elm City Diner as a waiter back in 1989/1990. What a time that was! No words can really describe what this place was
    actually like, as I have yet to come across another place quite like it since then. It is though,undoubtedly etched deeply into the minds of the few of us who worked there or stumbled in as a customer on a week night after the clubs closed for “eggs any style.”

    Customers were immediately greeted by (okay, usually no one because we were highly unorganized as wait staff and were far too preoccupied tending to intoxicated patrons demanding more coffee or begging the kitchen staff for that damn side order of toast they forgot to serve, yet again!) Customers were actually met with a dimly light diner, by flickering votive candles found on every table, along the 1950’s counter and along the glass shelves. It was quite cozy! Albeit quite noisy too.

    Songs such as Just a Touch of Love by C+C Music Factory or other dance music blasted through the air earlier in the evening. It got progressively louder throughout the night into the wee hours of the morning as a ploy to get everyone out so we could go home. By dinner time and beyond, Sam our pianist belted out the most memorable tunes on the world’s most in-need-of-tuning piano. He turned me on to Piano Man by Billy Joel. Sam was the embodiment of an entertainer! He could play any song upon request, amid all the chatter and merriment that could always be found at the diner. It was perhaps the only attribute the diner possessed, for it wasn’t the consistency of the food or pleasantries of the wait staff. Although a troop of very animated mimes visited us every Saturday night around 2am, the whole Elm City Diner staff were quite the characters themselves.

    Our cooks were quite good. They put some of the best entrees around. Just don’t count on it arriving too near in the future. The goings-on back of the house were equally as chaotic as were the antics front of the house. And please don’t order a salad. This was a thought always on my mind. Simple as it was, it required more than the tiny eating establishment could handle. Extra space was hard to come by, whether in the dining room or back in the kitchen. To make a simple salad, we’d have to push boxes aside from the store bought cakes and pies we’d just opened and placed out on display and get rid of dirty plates and glassware recently brought in from the dining room.

    In the end, we all had a great time. It was a time gone by. I’m happy to know the spirit of the Elm City Diner lives on.

  3. Robert Monte Says:

    I was a member of the original Elm City Diner wait staff when it opened to much fanfare in the summer of 1981. Wonderful memories of working in the hottest restaurant in New Haven! Great food and incredible emerald green interiors and recessed lighting with dark gray banquettes made this spot a must for trendy diners in New Haven. I waited on several celebs including Julia Child and Jodi Foster when she was attending Yale.

  4. hal Says:

    I attended Wesleyan University on the Connecticut river in Middletown 1981-86. One of my favorite memories was hanging out at the Elm City Diner after playing in an Ultimate Frisbee tournament in New Haven. I also remember the Electric Brunch on the old 99.l FM live from the Elm City Diner

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