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Empire Diner Will Close, Chelsea Residents and Celebrities Start to Mourn

By DNAinfo Staff on April 26, 2010 2:21pm  | Updated on April 26, 2010 2:19pm

Empire Diner will shuttered after being located in Chelsea for 34 years.
Empire Diner will shuttered after being located in Chelsea for 34 years.
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Flickr / Professor Bop

By Nicole Breskin and Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

CHELSEA — One of Manhattan’s iconic diners will close after more than 30 years in Chelsea.

Empire Diner, a beloved eatery at 210 Tenth Ave. frequented by Madonna, Barbra Streisand and Kate Winslet, will serve its last meal May 15.

“After more than thirty years of serving Chelsea residents, actors, police commissioners, athletes, gangsters, such luminaries as Madonna, Barbra Streisand, Steven Spielberg, and anyone carrying a New York City Guide Book, the Empire Diner has lost its lease and is closing its doors,” general manager Renate Gonzalez and executive chef Mitchell Woo wrote on the their website.

The diner, with its black lacquered counter tops and pressed tin ceilings, was buzzing during the lunchtime rush Monday as regulars returned for one of their last tastes of New York history.

Photographer Steven Menendez, who lives in the neighborhood, first discovered Empire in 1992 and had been coming there regularly ever since.

He said Empire is different from the now-common corporate chains that care more about the bottom line than what's on the plate.

"They're losing the love that's put in the food," he said of future generations. "All the landmark places are disappearing and it's a very sad thing."

Artist Nancy Baker, visiting from North Carolina, decided to stop by to say goodbye to one of her favorite spots from her days living in New York.

"It's iconic," she said, while munching on a salad. If it closes for good, she said, "That would be awful. Very sad.

"This is a landmark piece of architecture," she said. "It's the one place everyone knows where it is. It's really a shame."

Staffers hoped the diner would reopen in a new spot.

"We're all a little family here and that is what's being broken up," said Lisa Kellman Montero, a long-time Empire manager.

Many of the cooks and other staff have been working at Empire for decades, she said.

Waitress Ayana Smith, 20, has worked at the diner for three years alongside her mom, a manager, and her dad, a cook.

She said the diner serves much more than food. She's seen people get engaged, and watched children grow up from eating oatmeal to eating steak in the diner's booths.

"We're like a family," she said. "People come to us for stories, they come so they have someone to talk to late at night. It has great energy."

The diner, which Woody Allen immortalized in the opening sequence to "Manhattan," was known for its classic meals such as meatloaf with mash potatoes, linguini with meatballs and roast chicken with gravy.

The Gotham City Restaurant Group, which owns Coffee Shop restaurant in Union Square, will take over the site, rename it and redo the menu, according to the New York Post.

Gonzalez and Woo hope to open a new Empire Diner outpost elsewhere in Manhattan.