The Last Working-Class Diner

An East Side Hash House Fights to Hold On

"George and Alex are my neighbors," Crandell told the committee. "They have six booths and 18 stools, and they sell grits, which I like. Please don't let these folks be destroyed by the juggernaut of development in this neighborhood."

Jones Diner has other fans as well. One morning a few months ago, Alex cast a glance at the man sitting with a young woman in the end booth and realized it was Paul McCartney. The diner is also popular as an authentic-style backdrop for those filmed-in-New York City TV shows, Law and Order and NYPD Blue, and there are autographed pictures of Jerry Orbach and Michael Moriarty hanging on the diner's walls to prove it.

These things and more were raised at the zoning committee meeting by residents who said they didn't want another new trendy eatery in their midst. "Jones Diner is an icon," one neighbor told the committee.

Alex Poulis also rose to speak. "I never make a speech before, please be patient," he began. He then proceeded, in clear, concise sentences, to describe the long, tangled legal battle with the landlord and his hopes to remain. "This diner means a lot to me, to George, our families. The students from NYU all come, the artists, the movie people. We spent a lot of money on this. We are working people, little guys, not rich," he said. "Give us a ray of light."

There was applause, and then a woman named Fisher stood up. "That man, he gave a speech like Jimmy Stewart. It reminded me of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. This neighborhood is getting very, very fancy. I don't see why we can't keep something for the working people."

Not all of the neighbors present agreed. Peter Voletsky, the president of a residential loft co-op at 20 Bond Street, which abuts what would become the southern end of Cafeteria, said since there was "a fairly good chance" the variance would be approved by the appeals board, they should work with the new restaurant. The new tenants were already behaving like "cooperative neighbors," he said.

"One has to be realistic," said Voletsky, an attorney with shoulder-length hair. "The [Board of Standards and Appeals] is not the place to debate the problem of a place like the Jones Diner." Besides, he added, things could be worse. NYU could build a high-rise dormitory on the site. "And that would block out our light," he said.

After the hearing, the zoning committee discussed the issue among themselves and then voted unanimously to reject the variance. "They listened to us," exulted Alex the next morning when he got the news. "Who knows? Maybe we can win."

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