A conversation with Soho Diner
The Soho Diner is taking your typical diner experience and giving it a little extra flare, but with the same basic principle— everyone is welcome. Whalebone took a corner booth to chat with the Soho crew to learn a little about how you achieve that cozy feeling while bringing it into the modern world. Hopefully, you might be reading this copy of The Breakfast Issue inside the Soho Diner, where Whalebone will be popping up. Wouldn’t that be nice?
What is that magic feeling of a diner? And why does that feeling translate no matter where you are?
We all know that diner: lovers snuggled on the same side of the booth. Father and daughter are doing the crossword. A single on a bar stool sipping a warm cup of joe. The jukebox, the sugar caddy, the smell of the griddle. It’s unfussy so that people can relax and let their guard down. It’s honest and uncontrived. It makes people feel a sense of belonging, not in a homogenous way because diners draw in every stripe of the community. They’re quintessentially American, and whether you’re at a roadside hash house in Nebraska or our little spot in SoHo, you get that magic feeling that art and cinema have long masterfully captured, from Norman Rockwell to Tarantino.
How did Soho Diner take the diner concept and bring it to the next level?
We took that magic feeling and elevated it. Every microcosm of our space is curated to pay homage to America’s greatest diners. We captured the magic in everything from the design—walnut and persimmon booths and mid-century Howard Johnson’s-inspired counter seats—to the all-vinyl jukebox and our DJ-curated playlists to the classic and tailored uniforms. And then there’s the menu, upgraded from the typical diner vernacular: Think vegan pancakes, gluten-free hamburgers, third-wave coffee and thoughtfully balanced cocktails.
What’s the late-night crowd look like?
We get regular diners, pre-gamers, local nighthawks, double happy hour revelers, club kids looking for breakfast after the last call and generally those who subscribe to the “never stop” ethos and creative energy that New York owns. Even post-Covid, when many places shut down at 10 p.m., we’re the neighborhood joint with a neon sign that still says “open.”
What’s the early morning crowd look like?
We get lots of friendly neighbors from SoHo and Tribeca, fashion interns, creative types holding meetings, tourists, Soho Grand Hotel guests, those who’ve just landed from Europe, and even those who’ve stayed out all night.
Three menu items for the rest of time, what are you choosing?
Beef on Weck (a warm, rare roast beef sandwich on a kummelweck roll) or Montauk Tuna Melt (on an English muffin with gooey aged cheddar), and the Matchaful-powered Vegan Matcha Milkshake (did you know matcha helps monks meditate and samurai used it to power up before going into battle? It’s like that, but also creamy and dreamy and aptly has a cult following).
Okay, so you’re a diner with a bar, what’s the cocktail menu look like? Can you tell us a few favorites?
Jeremy Oertel (who has worked at Donna and Death & Co.) curates craft cocktails seasonally for our program, which is unexpected in a diner, where you might only find white zin or some well spirits. Our Jack’s Espresso Martini is a herculean upgrade to the conventional cocktail, with vodka, Jack’s espresso, demerara Redeye bitters and Galliano Ristretto coffee liqueur. We also have restorative cocktails, like our Orange Julius with orange and lemon juice, plus seltzer and vanilla cream.
How do you want people to feel during a dining experience at Soho Diner?
We want them to feel well-fed and well-nourished, comfortable and comforted like a neighbor, a friend and a SoHo denizen, no matter how temporary their stay. We want them to feel both an appreciation for nostalgia and today’s improvements. Lastly, we hope our diners leave fueled up and ready to create, conspire and conquer their day—or night’s sleep.