Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Then and Now: City Diner at 163 West 23rd Street, Manhattan

Then and Now: City Diner at 163 West 23rd Street, New York City

City Diner Malibu Diner 163 West 23rd Street guns.filminspector.com
City Diner at 163 West 23rd Street, Manhattan around 1980.

When you live in the city, little joints that the world seems to pass by loom large. If you find a good local diner, for instance, you treasure it. You get to know the workers, they get to know your names, you learn what days they have certain specials, you discover little oddities like whether they sell cheap bagels at 8 a.m. on every other Thursday - that sort of thing. Then the joint moves, or you move, and one way or another you lose track. Well, let's make a comparison of City Dinner at 163 West 23rd Street, Manhattan from the 1980s to the 2010s and see what happened to that location.

I never know what happened to a particular location before I start researching it. It could be completely different, with no remaining reference points at all. However, although City Dinner is no longer at 163 West 23rd Street, the spot hasn't changed much at all in the intervening decades. While you may be wondering what is so special about some old diner, there's a hidden story to City Diner that you may find as interesting as I did.

City Diner Malibu Diner 163 West 23rd Street guns.filminspector.com
City Diner/Malibu Diner in New York today. (Photo by Malibu Diner Facebook page).

City diner opened around 1978 in a brick building that had once been home to the Traffic Cafeteria (the building still bears the name). It became the Malibu Diner in 1981, though ownership appears to have remained either unchanged or little disturbed. So, as of this writing, Malibu Diner has been there for four decades. That's enough time to build up a wealth of expertise in how to please your customers.

As shown in the photo below taken from Google Street View, 163 West 23rd Street is long gone. However, what has taken its place? Why, another diner, of course. This one is called Malibu Diner. It is open 24/7 and generally gets good reviews. Do you want water in a glass instead of a cup? The Malibu Diner is your place. People call it a "slice of old-time New York," and our comparison shows that isn't far off the mark. The Malibu Diner is one of those places where you go to get a classic tuna melt, or maybe a Bison Burger Deluxe. Nobody will make it exactly like one of those joints, which have been perfecting their craft literally for decades - as we can see. Oh, and it also delivers - you can't beat that!

Oh, the Malibu Diner is a Greek Diner, though many of the workers there now apparently are Spanish speakers. Why the owners decided to change the name to "Malibu Diner" back in the day is a bit of a mystery. In the recent photo below, you can see the entrance to 165 West 23rd Street to the left of the diner (this is on the north side of 23rd Street) remains unchanged. The City Diner building facade doesn't appear to have been touched in the 40-odd years since the above photo from around 1978-1980 was taken. They have added an awning - well, you do have to make some concessions to the passage of time. I think the awning gives the diner a classier look, but City Diner looked just fine without it, too.

One of the secrets to why City Diner/Malibu Diner has survived is that it has a devoted clientele at nearby Selis Manor, 135 West 23rd Street. Just down the block to the right from the perspective of the photos, Selis Manor is a 200-apartment building that offers special housing for the blind. Selis Manor, founded by a blind newspaperman, opened in 1980.

Selis Diner Malibu Diner 163 West 23rd Street guns.filminspector.com
The view from Selis Manor, at the right, to Malibu Diner at the left (marked by the red canopy). Google Street View.

You might notice the timing. This was right after City Diner opened, and the owners of City Diner recognized a community need that needed to be filled. Many of the visually impaired folks have difficulty chopping up their food, so they simply come down to the Malibu Diner or order delivery. Malibu Diner always plays music outside so its visually impaired patrons know that they've arrived. Malibu Diner features menus in Braille - how often are you going to find that? My friends, there's a secret to every successful business, and you just learned Malibu Diner's secret.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this entry in "the more things change, the more they stay the same." There are lessons in the success of the Malibu Diner that wise readers will appreciate. Thanks for stopping by!

City Diner Malibu Diner 163 West 23rd Street guns.filminspector.com
163 West 23rd Street, Manhattan in the 2010s (Google Steet View).


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