As a child I was (and still am) mesmerized by the paintings of Edward Hopper. I am especially drawn to the ones where people are sitting in restaurants; “Automat” and “Chop Suey” being prime examples.
I certainly have expensive taste, “Chop Suey” just sold for $92 million that’s some pricey take-out). Maybe it was an early indicator of my career writing about the food service industry. Another one of my favorite paintings is “Nighthawks,” which depicts a couple sitting in a diner late at night. As a child I would stare at it during my family’s annual visit to Chicago’s Art Institute, where it has been on display for more than 70 years.
I was fascinated by the sophisticated couple having a late-night cup of coffee. Were they lovers saying good night before going back to their spouses? Or, perhaps on a first date, lingering over coffee after dancing at the Mocambo, hesitant for the evening to end? Jewel thieves planning a heist? And what about the blond counter boy? Would he take me in his arms, his hair still smelling of fryer grease, and teach me how to kiss?
As you can tell, I had a rich fantasy life.
In my mind, “Nighthawks” was set in New York, the “city that never sleeps” while I was stuck in Chicago, “the city that needed a nap.” The painting represented the epitome of sophistication and I longed for the day, I could sit on a counter stool and smoke a cigarette and sip coffee alongside my handsome lover.
As I grew up, I got to experience that late-night activity more than once. You can no longer smoke in diners (no great loss to me, as I no longer smoke) and here in Fort Lauderdale, 24-hour diners are few. Peter Pan is no longer open 24 hours, so you’ve got two choices if you want to recreate the “Nighthawks” scene.
1410 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
Since 1937, dining at The Floridian has been a tradition among generations of Fort Lauderdale residents and visitors. Pet friendly and with free WiFi, The Floridian serves up classic diner favorites 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in a casual, friendly environment. With more than 30 different sandwiches, a variety of hamburgers, hot dogs and even five kinds of meat loaf, the menu is extensive, providing something for everyone. House-made soups are always a good bet, as is breakfast fare (served around the clock). Vegetarian and healthy options are also available. Tables on the patio overlook busy Las Olas, while the ones indoors are surrounded by walls lined with celebrity photographs that are nostalgic reminders of old Hollywood. If you’re looking for trendy, this ain’t the place (the blog’s most recent posting is about the ALS ice bucket challenge), but for a place steeped in history (with carpeting nearly as old as time), The Floridian can’t be beat.
250 W. State Rd. 84, Fort Lauderdale
Lester’s Diner has been a staple in South Florida since the opening of the first restaurant in Fort Lauderdale in 1967. Set in 50s-themed décor, the family-owned and operated chain is a classic American eatery with a home-town vibe where you can enjoy a casual dining experience. Whether you are in the mood for a juicy steak, breakfast food, or a classic diner sandwich, Lester’s has something for you. The pastry case is overflowing with goodies for those with a sweet tooth. There are additional locations in Margate, Sunrise, and Pompano Beach, all of which seemed to be lit for interrogating a prisoner rather than ambiance.