Former neon sign for Crystal Restaurant at 87 Public Square in Watertown, New York. Opened in 1925, it’s the oldest restaurant in Watertown. Dennis and Jerry Valanos owned the restaurant until 1943, when it was purchased by their head chef, Otto Dephtereos. Today, Peter (Otto’s grandson) and Libby Dephtereos manage the restaurant. A Prohibition-era advertisement for “All Legal Beverages” still appears in the window.
Lately I’ve been obsessed with old signs–neon signs, ghost signs, populuxe styles, etc. They represent a living memory of the past, and express uniqueness and character from a time when business owners displayed confidence and the promise of permanence.
Nothing lasts forever, of course, especially in the realm of business, but these signs were clearly designed for the long term. Proof is the fact many of these signs have outlasted the businesses themselves. Some, like the Crystal Restaurant in Watertown, New York, beat the odds and have survived for nearly a century.
I decided to take my photography to the next level this year, not just to enhance my blog, videos, and future books, but for fun as well. Not a lot of people got into Halloween around here, but a few took it to the next level. These are some of my favorites that really captured the spirit of the holiday.
Located on Court Street near the Black River in Watertown, New York, Friede’s Diner is a greasy spoon serving up affordable breakfast and lunch to a local clientele.
I had an interesting experience at Friede’s. As I walked in and sat down, I got the feeling I was out of place. The waiter (or owner?) asked me what I wanted without even handing me a menu. It’s on a sketchy street with a rundown bar and a few abandoned buildings, so maybe they’re used to regulars who always order the same thing.
I ended up ordering an omelet with toast. The toast consisted of huge slices of homemade bread, which was delicious, but my soda came in a can (a pet peeve of mine). Friede’s also only takes cash and their ATM was busted, but thankfully the owner let me run to a nearby gas station. I guess I look like a trustworthy guy.
Located at the intersection of State Routes 37 and 342 several miles north of Watertown, New York, Longway’s Diner is a greasy spoon catering primarily to interstate truckers and soldiers from nearby Fort Drum.
Longway’s has plenty of booth and counter space, although the booths are tightly packed. On multiple visits, the food has been consistently good. Everything is served together–home fries, eggs, toast, sausage or bacon, all on the same plate, giving it that greasy, uniform flavor. Like most 24-hour establishments, people come here after a night of drinking to settle their stomachs with a nice heavy meal. During the day, it’s more of a family place.
There are a few motels, auto shops, and gas stations nearby, so not much to see and do. Patrons mainly stop in as they’re passing through the area.
There are no surprises or custom items on Longway’s menu, just typical diner fare. The menu is simple and easy to understand. Breakfast is tiered, with eggs and French toast listed in increasing increments (1 Egg… $1.49. 2 Eggs… $2.39. 3 Eggs… $3.29. Etc). Generic sides, like meat, home fries, and home fries and meat, are carefully listed beneath each item. I imagine this was done deliberately to make ordering with a hangover easier.
Normally, when a road intersects with an interstate highway, there’s one on-ramp and one off-ramp in either direction. Just north of Watertown, New York, there’s something I’ve never seen before: two on-ramps going in the same direction. At the intersection of Route 342 and I-81, traveling east, you have two options if you want to take I-81 south.
The sign directs you to a wide, looping on-ramp, but you can also just turn left and get on I-81 south much quicker. That ramp is clearly for people approaching from the west, but check it out–there’s nothing preventing drivers coming from either direction from using that ramp. Was this by design, or just a weird accident?
Located at 1280 Coffeen Street, just off Interstate 81, in Watertown, New York, Shorty’s Place is a great 1950s-themed diner and a favorite of both locals and soldiers from nearby Fort Drum. It’s worth going for the decor alone. The owner must have spent a long time tracking down so much Coca-Cola-themed bric-a-brac. The diner is clean and nostalgia palpable. Seating includes a long counter, tables, and booths. Each booth contains a working jukebox.
Shorty’s food is diverse and above average. Menu choices include charbroiled pork chops, fried scallops, black & blue charbroiled chicken breast, pulled pork BBQ sandwich (Wednesdays), a breakfast lasagna, and more. They even have a limited beer and wine selection and make old-fashioned milkshakes with hard milk flavoring. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner is served all day, except for soup, which is only served in the afternoon and evening. Prices are reasonable: expect to pay between $10 and $13 per person, including a drink. The most expensive item on the menu is the friend seafood platter for $11.89.