The diner is a rightly beloved cultural institution, and yet it remains a curious one. In one sense they all resemble one another—you could order in any diner without referring to a menu. And yet they also reflect their owners and neighborhoods—they may have an unexpected specialty or insist on serving something only one way. (We won’t get into the hash browns v. home fries debate at the moment, though it is a rich one.)
Consider the Viand, on Madison Avenue and 61st Street. It’s near Barneys and Hermes, not the exact provenance of a fried eggs and bacon—unless you’re ordering room service at The Pierre. The Viand is narrow—the booths are only one person wide—and nearly always crowded with one of the more unusual cross-sections of diners in the city. You may sit at the counter next to a high-powered lawyer or a woman who would typically lunch in a far tonier setting. But it’s not always an overly smart crowd, you come across tourists, office workers, shopping Europeans. It’s local and international at the same time, which is to say, it’s a uniquely New York institution.