Hipsters or skater punks do not loiter in or around Monk’s Diner. They will venture in Zabar’s or Grey’s Papaya, but Monk’s? Fuhgettaboutit.
Monk’s is a working class joint on the Upper West Side. Upper East Siders won’t enter either. They tend to stick in their own conclave.
Come to think of it, on the island of Manhattan, only Upper West Siders along the Hudson frequent Monk’s Diner. The people of Harlem and Washington Heights don’t. The people of midtown don’t.
There are some fine folks from Brooklyn and Queens, but they are the employees. Monk’s is local place and the only reason it stays in business is because of its loyal patrons. It doesn’t advertise, receive any press, and the menu doesn’t change.
But it has charm, a no-frills, you-can-sit-at-your-booth (which still has your butt impression from the previous day) charm. And with the hustle and bustle of people walking the New York minute, that’s hard to come by even at a diner.
The interior is a hodgepodge of kitsch and dive. A curmudgeon of a woman works the cash-only register as you enter. She’s supposed to also act as the hostess and maître d’, but she only takes your money. She expects you to know where you sit and if someone is at your seat she’ll give you the response, “Whatcha gonna do uh-bout it?”
Watching the customers come and go is almost as good as seeing live theatre.
A group of nebbish looking 40-somethings were complaining to another group that looked like their doppelgangers over a booth. They tried to sit in the first booth next to the door and then switched back to the second. They complained about one of the line cooks, the cashier, the owner, the change of wait staff, and even the food. Not with malevolence, but leaning more on the comical side.
There’s nothing special about the booths. The counter seems a bit more comfortable. You can watch the cooks in the open kitchen and imagine you were watching celebrity chefs in a SoHo trendy restaurant perform magic. Of course, here at Monk’s, there is no magic. The cooks take the ticket, plop a scoop of tuna on two pieces of rye toast, scoop up a handful of fries, plate it up in no particular order and yell at anyone who wants to hear that an order is up.
There is a large menu hanging by the side featuring a hot dog, soda, and other diner novelties, but people don’t bother to look at it. They don’t even look at the individual menus by the perfectly situated plastic mustard and ketchup squeeze bottles. Monk’s frequenters know what they want. They know what Monk’s offers.
A person wants an egg salad sandwich on sour dough with bacon, provolone, lettuce and tomato with macaroni salad, wish granted. You want a gigantic salad with a bunch of mishegas in it, poof…wish granted. A Nutella shake with Banana and Chocolate Chips…done. Slice of pie and cheddar cheese, order up.
Monk’s serves food, and only food. One is not going to get the best service either. Waitresses are on salary at Monk’s. They do not work for tips. They are all like tenured professors at a university. They don’t care if you complain, there’s nothing you or anyone else can do about it. Nurse your beverages because they are not refilled. Only sometimes is the coffee, but don’t expect it to be hot.
The one and main thing Monk’s has going for it, is you can take your sweet time here. It is the one diner and if not the one and only restaurant in all of Manhattan where you can talk for hours on end without being disturbed by the wait staff or feel that you’re being kicked out.
When you sit in one of their booths or chairs it’s almost as if time is frozen and you can just talk for an eternity with your party about nothing. People don’t come here for business, to propose, or break up. They don’t come here to talk about sports or newsworthy events that matter. They just sit down, eat, and talk about frivolous things. Their conversations don’t move forward. They stay stagnate as if they were stuck in the Twilight Zone.
It’s comedic and tragic at the same time, but isn’t that what great theater is?
ATMOSPHERE: A New Yorkers diner. Loud with a bunch of 40-something-working types yelling at one another over nothing.
SERVICE: Non-existent. Once you order and the food is brought to you, don’t expect the waitresses to return.
SOUND LEVEL: Loud but not in an annoying sense. Just unpleasantly loud.
RECOMMENDED: This is a place where they can probably make anything you want, as long as it’s a diner staple. Don’t be asking for tuna tartare or marrow bone.
DRINKS AND WINE: No alcoholic beverages served. Only soft drinks, shakes, juices, water, and coffee beverages.
PRICES: Entrees are from $7-$15
OPEN: All 7 Days, 24/7/365
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes
Restrooms: One single stall unisex