Overnight at Diner24, NYC’s newest 24-hour restaurant and bar (2024)

Table of Contents
11pm Midnight 1 am 2am 3am 4am 5am 6am References

New York City's reputation as the city that never sleeps has waned in recent years, buta new 24/7 diner is seeking tobreathe new life into the epithet we’re so proud of.

Gramercy's new Diner24, which opened in May, is hoping to make it as one of these "open-late" spots despite a still-recovering economy and a city not yet fully back to its pre-pandemic self.

At 22nd Street and Third Avenue, it shares many characteristics with other diners in New York City: customers can have breakfast for dinner; the waiters are in dress-shirt-bow-tie getups; the tile floor is black and white; and the tables have shiny, metal striations around them that may have been considered “Space Age” in the 1950s.

In an age when thesekind of 24/7 restaurants are few and far between, it’s remarkable when a new spot enters the scene. That’s why last Saturday I took a stool at the counter from 11pm to 7am, to experience the late-night hours that put the 24 in Diner24.

11pm

Overnight at Diner24, NYC’s newest 24-hour restaurant and bar (1)

“I Will Survive” plays as the staff busies themselves with arriving customers, orders and plates of food. Stratis Morfogen, the diner’s owner, leans against the bar in his black T-shirt and blue jeans, tortoiseshell glasses and silver watch, typing away at his phone, promoting the diner on social media. New York City’s iconic all-night diners are an endangered breed and Morfogen knows it.

“Unfortunately, during these COVID shutdowns, not just 24-hour diners but a lot of restaurants got shut down,” he tells me. “I believe a lot of these places were on their way out…I think COVID pushed it along faster.”

The Queens-born restaurateur has seen the decline coming for a long time. He is the son of a diner owner and a former president of the Queens Diner Association. He jokes that he has been a restauranteur “since the womb.” Morfogen owned his first restaurant at 20 years old and to date, he owns or has owned 35 licensed and franchised restaurants, diners and nightclubs. It’s something his father and many diner-owning fathers of the mid-20th century didn’t actually want for their children.

“Most of the sons have become doctors, lawyers, bankers. That was really the message that our parents gave us: ‘Why do you want to be in this business? I hate this business. Go get yourself a job at Bear Stearns or Lehman Brothers!’”

Midnight

Overnight at Diner24, NYC’s newest 24-hour restaurant and bar (2)

“Did you order something?” Phillip Bondon, the co-owner, asks me. As if on cue, a man from the kitchen hands me a plate of zucchini kabobs: strips of crispy zucchini wrapped around feta cheese with tzatziki. I inhale it and finish off the Greek sauce with some toasted pita.

The older customers have gone home. Most of the young people are here for a meal before they go out. Some are finishing off an early night.

“The street taco place wasn’t open, and Google recommended this place,” says Joe, a young investment banker from New Jersey.

Flying out of the kitchen are plates of fried chicken, burgers and fries, strawberry-smothered waffles, mac-n-cheese, tall and rich chocolate milkshakes, massive salads and stacks of flapjacks.

“Word on the street is getting better,” says Bondon. Originally from Paris, Bondon is Morfogen’s business partner. Since opening, the two have put in 16-to-18-hour days, trying to get everything off to a good start. “When it takes you 11 months to get open, you have to,” he says, shrugging. This will be their schedule for some time. “It takes three to four months to establish a process for the operation,” Bondon says.

Morfogen reckons in another month, operations will stabilize. They are in the training process, whittling two teams of around 35 employees down to two stalwart teams of 10. “It’s a lot of money, it’s a lot of time, and it’s a lot of customer dissatisfaction. We have to learn if that employee is good or bad on the customer.”

Overnight at Diner24, NYC’s newest 24-hour restaurant and bar (3)

1 am

Morfogen’s grandfather and father were among the pioneers of the classic New York City diner. After all, much of what we think of when we picture a classic diner comes from the last century. But as popular as those were, Morfogen believes they did not keep up with the changing times. “My Dad’s generation’s idea of technology was Mom on the cash register—a Casio they just got from Staples.”

Cleaning a plate of burgers and fries at 1:30am is a familiar pastime for Justin from Roanoke, Virginia. “Twenty-four-hour diners is something I grew up going to,” he says. The commercial and film director had places to go in high school with his “nocturnal” friends once things got late. They always find their way to a Waffle House or IHOP. He finds it “surprising” to find “substantive food” nowadays at this hour in New York City.

2am

Overnight at Diner24, NYC’s newest 24-hour restaurant and bar (4)

The staff is hustling. Waiters are headed back to the kitchen area as runners dash out with plates. Orders get mixed up, ignored, forgotten. This is all part of a necessary process for Morfogen and Bondon. And they’re here for every minute of it.

At this point, it is all about who sinks and who swims. Such is the nature of getting a restaurant going properly.

Cheyenne and Ali, friends from UCLA now living in Manhattan, miss the diners in L.A. “We used to go to diners in L.A. after nights out,” says Cheyenne. They heard about Diner24 from a review video posted on TikTok. Ali likes the authenticity of the place. “I wanted something that felt like someone took the time to do it.”

3am

I order the flapjacks with whipped cream and strawberries. Sugar and calories will keep me going until 7. Morfogen turns the lights down, and I start to feel like it’s the middle of the night but the patrons are still coming in. There have been at least 20 people in here at all times since 11.

I smother my flapjacks with whipped cream and strawberries. Morfogen seats a table of energetic post-club women. They tell the owner how excited they are to have a diner in this part of town, and he is all too happy to chat them up. They’re New York City influencers, they say, who will be sharing part of their late-night meal on TikTok for nearly 500,000 followers. Morfogen is moving heaven and earth for them, always performing when he presents them with a dish or drink.

Bars have closed, and the place is filling up. Morfogen is back in the kitchen, cracking eggs on the grill. Bondon is managing the food window, keeping dishes moving.

4am

Overnight at Diner24, NYC’s newest 24-hour restaurant and bar (5)

The diner is popping. Morfogen is calling out to the bartender for the Frangelico. Bondon is managing orders from the window. Runners and waiters work the nearly full dining area. With this influx of the hungry and drunk, often both, the hard-pressed mechanisms of the staff are finding a kind of conveyor-esque quality. The service must be as good at 4am as it is at 4pm.

“It’s going,” says Bondon, simply. Even as Chef Eric shakes a rueful hand at the order screen, Bondon has a winning smile.

“I’ve never seen this place where the booths are not full,” says Morfogen. “It’s another day at the office.”

Morfogen sold his last diner in 2004 and vowed never to open another one but opportunity brought him back. The prior diner owner at 3rd and 22nd retired and convinced Morfogen to carry on the tradition. After a lease agreement and a “cosmetic overhaul,” Morfogen had his new diner.

But why open an all-night diner at a time when so many are going under? Why did so many fail to keep up with the times? “They don’t understand analytics. They don’t understand search engine optimization (SEO),” quips Morfogen.

He compiled an analytical report showing that over 1 million searches were being generated a month for the phrases “24-hour diner,” “24-hour breakfast,” “24-hour burger,” and so on within 30 blocks of this spot. “Out of my 35 years of opening restaurants in Manhattan, I’ve never seen a perfect fit of concept and location like this.” The area boasts two universities, some 10 middle schools, two hospitals, and 25 bars within five blocks. Plus, thousands of apartments.

5am

Overnight at Diner24, NYC’s newest 24-hour restaurant and bar (6)

Finally, the energy ebbs for the first time since 11pm. Only nine people remain in the diner. One of them has fallen asleep in a booth by themselves. Soon, only the bleary-eyed person in the booth is the lone survivor of the night.

Morfogen is content with his operation. In his view, it is a great time to run a diner. “Now, the opportunity is wide open. If you go and search ‘24-hour diner,’ guess what pops up at the top?”

Diner24, obviously.

“So obvious,” says Morfogen. “The name was obvious.”

6am

It is time for a shift change. “Look at that! No more orders! No more,” Chef Eric says, staggering out of the kitchen like he had a rough day at the gym. He has been going nonstop since before I arrived (he will only work the night shift since the days are even crazier). He sighs heavily, “I love my job, believe it or not.”

Just before 7am, the lights come up. A group of four men walk in and take a booth. They are the first of the breakfast crowd. The brief 30-minute lull is about to end. Morfogen and Bondon are out. The day manager is on shift and readies the staff for the morning rush.

Overnight at Diner24, NYC’s newest 24-hour restaurant and bar (2024)

References

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Merrill Bechtelar CPA

Last Updated:

Views: 6275

Rating: 5 / 5 (50 voted)

Reviews: 89% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Merrill Bechtelar CPA

Birthday: 1996-05-19

Address: Apt. 114 873 White Lodge, Libbyfurt, CA 93006

Phone: +5983010455207

Job: Legacy Representative

Hobby: Blacksmithing, Urban exploration, Sudoku, Slacklining, Creative writing, Community, Letterboxing

Introduction: My name is Merrill Bechtelar CPA, I am a clean, agreeable, glorious, magnificent, witty, enchanting, comfortable person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.