In late July, the Red Bank Broadway Diner abruptly shut down; Growing up in Monmouth County, the spot was a rite of passage.
Bacon Cheeseburger. Medium Rare. And a Coca-Cola.
My usual. Every Friday and Saturday sometime after three in the morning for the last four years I lived in New Jersey at the Broadway Diner in Red Bank at the end of Rt. 35.
I moonlighted over the weekends as a bouncer at a bar a few miles up the road. Grew up in a neighborhood close by. And, during my tenure at that Diner’s counter, I made friends out of the waiters, waitresses, busboys and hostesses; threw out unwieldy customers, often for the reward of a free slice of coconut-custard pie; and learned every cranny of that greasy little spoon, including the wall-mounted jukeboxes at every table (which didn’t work).
Diners — especially those in New Jersey — are like that.
The people who frequent them feel as if those haunts are extensions of their own kitchens. In some ways, they are. For me, the employees let me park my motorcycle on the sidewalk when I’d come in late night.
There, I really was at home. I’d been a regular since I was 14.
Hung out on those courtyard benches between the glitzy chrome of the building’s facade and the street. Laughed on the stoop waiting for my turn at one of the tables, with friends.
I’d only left town for 8 months before the diner closed; I now live in Atlanta.
What’s apparent, at least on the surface, with the diner’s closing roughly 18 years after it opened, is that there is a hole on Monmouth Street.
What’s not, is that when Mr. Ross died and his daughter, Amy, took over and decided to suddenly shutter the eatery, it was the fruition of a community that wanted to kill the presence of teenagers and homeless people in downtown.
Growing up, you’d find groups of kids wandering Broadway in packs. Hanging out on corners and in parking lots.
Red Bank isn’t that anymore.
To a great degree, it’s been gentrified. Like many places connected to New York City by rail with expansive downtowns, the rent is out of control – and with it, the storefronts.
Down the main drag towards Shrewsbury, you can’t buy a sweater for less than $300 in the same spot where kids used to squat in empty lots.
The Diner was a spot where eating a grilled cheese and mozzarella sticks at 3 in the morning was commonplace. The town, now, in a lot of ways, is colder without it.
Filled with fancy cars, and even more well-to-do people.
It’s easy to dismiss these thoughts, especially about a Diner, an artifact of what the Garden State is and has always been, as nostalgia.
But with the Diner gone, Red Bank, for me, has now lost all of the shine it once held during my boyhood.