New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make NYC Rock Book Excerpt
Singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega recorded “Tom’s Diner” for her 1987 album Solitude Standing. Vega wrote in the New York Times that the song’s title refers to a New York coffee shop better known for its use as the exterior of Monk’s Diner on the sitcom Seinfeld.
The restaurant is located at 2880 Broadway on the corner of 112th Street. Barack Obama often ate there as a student at nearby Columbia University. John McCain frequented the coffee shop when he visited his daughter Meghan when she was a Columbia student.
“When I was at Barnard College in Manhattan, I used to go to Tom’s Restaurant for coffee, and after I graduated I also ate there before going to work,” Vega recalled. “It was then a cheap, greasy place on 112th and Broadway, and it still is, in spite of its celebrity."
Early episodes of Seinfeld showed the entire neon sign. The “Tom’s” part of the name was later cropped out.
"Tom's Diner" by Suzanne Vega
“I have a photographer friend, Brian Rose, who has taken pictures of the Lower East Side of Manhattan and the Berlin Wall,” Vega continued. “He told me once long ago that he felt as though he saw the world through a pane of glass. This struck me as romantic and alienated, and I wanted to write a song from this viewpoint.
“The melody hit me as I was walking down Broadway, fast. I wanted something jaunty. I remember liking the near rhymes of ‘diner’ and ‘corner,’ ‘sitting’ and ‘waiting.’ Although it is actually Tom’s restaurant I changed it to diner as it sings better that way.”
"Tom's Diner" by DNA featuring Suzanne Vega
Vega was surprised to learn in 1990 that a British duo, DNA, had added a dance track to her song. The DNA version was a Top 5 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. “I loved what DNA had done,” Vega told The Guardian. “I thought it would be played in a few dance clubs and that would be it, but it surpassed everyone’s expectations.”
Mastropolo is the author of New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make New York Rock, one of Best Classic Bands’ Best Music Books of 2022, and Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever.
New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make NYC Rock
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