A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from April 03, 2005
“Tom’s Diner” (Nov. 18, 1981; 1984, 1987)
Suzanne Vega included the song "Tom's Diner" in her 1987 album Solitude Standing. However, the a cappella folk song has been performed by Vega in public at least since 1984. The events of the song take place on November 18, 1981.

Tom's Restaurant is near Columbia University, at 2880 Broadway. The outside of the restaurant is also famous from the television situation comedy Seinfeld.

I open
Up the paper
There's a story
Of an actor

Who had died
While he was drinking
It was no one
I had heard of

Yet this, strangely enough, provides a real clue. Though Suzanne, in the her liner notes from 1991's "Tom's Album" recalls the song as being written "one morning in 1982," Brian Rose, in a 1982 article for "The CooP," places completion of "Tom's Diner" (which he describes as "an a cappella piece of whimsy and sagacity") somewhere between mid-1981 and mid-1982.

This broader "window" fits the time frame of the demise of actor William Holden, whose corpse was discovered on Monday, November 16th, 1981, in the apartment where it had lain for a week after Holden hit his head against the sharp edge of a table in a drunken fall and subsequently bled to death. The story wasn't reported nationally until Tuesday, however, and didn't appear in the New York Post -- one of the only two NYC papers with comics -- until Wednesday morning, November 18th, 1981.

This establishment used to be famous for its mention in a song "Tom's Diner" by Suzanne Vega. It has since become even more famous for its appearances in the TV sitcom Seinfeld, which seems to imply that fictional Jerry and his friends live around here somewhere! The food is very good (and cheap) for a diner. Anything with fries and a milkshake is recommended, though tourists seem to be making the place a bit crowded on Saturday mornings. It has been owned and operated by the same Minasizoulis family from Greece for nearly 50 years; it vanquished its longtime rival on the same block, the College Inn, in 1997. If only it were open 24 hrs!

Tom's Restaurant
2880 Broadway · New York, NY

Everybody should recognize this place. Made famous on Seinfeld and immortalized in Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner," it's well, Tom's Restaurant. Of course, the "Tom's" was shortly cut out of Seinfeld's establishing shots so they no longer had to pay royalties, although you can still spot it in the very early episodes.

The diner itself is just a greasy spoon and terribly overcrowded, the waitresses rude, and the coffee mediocre at best. When the weather's cold, be sure not to hold the door open for any longer than necessary or the entire staff yells at you in unison. Once you do squeeze inside, you stand with a dozen other people in a space of about two square feet waiting for a table, just to sit in a mysteriously wet booth for an oily cheese omelette and some dry toast.

Best meal I've ever had.

26 March 1984, New York Times, pg. C20:
Suzanne Vega Presents
Her Own Folk Songs
Among the more interesting original songs that Miss Vega performed Thursday at Folk City were "Tom's Diner" and "Cracking," songs that in the immediacy and acuteness of their observations on daily life brought to mind the poetry of Frank O'Hara and his disciples.

29 April 1987, New York Times, pg. C25:
What Ms. Vega describes in the album's more pictorial songs is a scareed cityscape that retains a certain desolate beauty. "Tom's Diner," which she performs a cappella, presents a moment-by-moment first-person catalogue of thoughts and sights while sitting in a seedy diner on a rainy day.

(OCLC WorldCat)
Title: Solitude standing
Author(s): Vega, Suzanne.
Publication: Hollywood, Calif. :; A&M Records,
Year: 1987
Description: 1 sound disc :; digital ;; 4 3/4 in.
Language: English
Music Type: Multiple forms; Popular music; Rock music
Standard No: Publisher: CD 5136; A&M Records; Other: 075021513624; LCCN: 91-756522
Contents: Tom's diner (2:09) -- Luka (3:52) -- Ironbound/Fancy poultry (6:19) -- In the eye (4:16) -- Night vision (2:47) -- Solitude standing (4:49) -- Calypso (4:14) -- Language (3:57) -- Gypsy (4:04) -- Wooden horse (Caspar Hauser's song) (5:13) -- Tom's diner (reprise) (2:40).
Posted by Barry Popik
Music/Dance/Theatre/Film/Circus • Sunday, April 03, 2005 • Permalink

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