Cup Diner, Astoria


Scott and I were both customers at the Cup Diner in Astoria, Queens for a couple years before we even knew each other. I used to order the L.A. Salad which had strawberries, blueberries, walnuts, greens, blue cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette. Eventually after being a customer there for such a long time, I decided it would be a good place to work. It was only a few minutes walk from my apartment, and the food was good.


As you can guess from my lack of make-up or hair brushing, I worked the 6 am shift. The world is a different place that early. There aren't that many people out and about, and so people interact differently, with a little more conversational intimacy. I served coffee to people who worked at the Kaufman Astoria Studios across the street. Then there were the celebrities. I waited on Larry David, Steve Wiebe from The King of Kong movie (this actually turned out to be our first date movie - Wiebe was there for the premiere of his movie at the Museum of the Moving Image across the street), Spike Lee, plenty of people from "Law and Order", Josh Lucas (who thought he was too hunky and famous to pay for his $5 check of chicken soup and iced tea), a variety of gentlemen suitors (some better than others), and neighborhood families who loved me and would say hi to me at the grocery store and on the street when I wasn’t working. My fellow waitresses were often fabulous – it was the closest my life will ever come to an episode of Pan-Am. The food was great in the beginning – BLTs, deep fried French toast coated in coconut with strawberries, Junior’s cheesecake, coleslaw made from scratch, and pretty good coffee.

When I first started there I worked nights, and they wanted me to be a manager. It actually turned out to be a horrible deal financially, and I fought to work the day shift as a server. I am glad I did, because one of the first day time shifts I worked was when I met my husband-to-be. The first time I met him I was folding napkins around silverware, and he had a newspaper with the NBA playoffs being featured which mentioned the Pistons. I started talking about LeBron James, and after that day coworkers started to put him in my section because they thought I wanted to talk to him. I think the third time I waited on him he told me his name. Then, one time I pressured him into ordering the fish and chips. He thought it was way too many fries and kept feeding them to me. I don’t think that is a normal thing to do with your waitress, and it made me think he liked me. Another day I was getting ready to leave, and he just kept saying "Wait, I am getting my check!" And I waited five minutes, and I didn't think that was normal either. Very smooth.

He told me stories about people who I’ve now known for years, and it’s funny to think back to that moment of him saying “My friends in CT…” or "My friend who is an English professor" and now having memories of them now in my own life. In between me filling his coffee he talked about going to France on his honeymoon, and I thought “that is a honeymoon I’d like to go on” (4 years later it was Napa we went to instead, and had great food). He was adorable, the smartest guy ever, knew about stuff I thought was interesting (even though that was 4 years ago now I think we had a lengthy discussion about Mitt Romney's chances running for the presidency), and fun to talk to.  It was an uncertain time in my life. I was applying to grad schools all over, my life could have gone a million different directions. It was both terrifying and extremely exciting. But one thing I was sure of, almost immediately, was that he was the guy for me. I don't mean that in an overly dramatic way. It just very simply true.

The restaurant had problems. A new owner cut corners that led to disastrous results. There were rumors of ties to the mob, and of fraudulent paychecks. I left to go to grad school, and the place shut down. But without overly romanticizing it, I just want to point out how restaurants can be the beating heart of a community. They bring people together, and live on in the minds of the people they touched even years after they shut down. Like when I added our lovely server from New World on facebook and saw that she was already friends with the husband of my friend who did a reading at our wedding, and a few others of my friends. Servers just have the chance to meet everyone in a given neighborhood, and I think that is a special thing. There are awful parts of being a server, but the sense of community that surrounds the job and restaurants in general I'm not sure can be replicated. For me, I got a husband out of the deal, and two of the iconic coffee cups I stole when I heard the place was closing down just before I stopped working there. We still use those cups - the only difference is that now he is usually the one serving me.


Comments

  1. As a single mother putting herself through school, my mother supported us by working as a waitress at El Loco for 13 years. She met many of her closest friends there, as well as several boyfriends and my stepfather. I often hung out there as a little kid while waiting for my father to pick me up so I also felt kind of like part of the restaurant family. It definitely is a unique aspect of neighborhood restaurants...and one I very much like.

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  2. Awww that is such a nice memory! I think it is a unique aspect of restaurants that they can bring together people who may not meet in other ways - it can be a diversity in ages, income brackets, interests.. it is not just religious people like at a church, or just creative people like at an arts space, it is not just people of a certain age like at a school. I'm sure there were aspects of the job that were hard for her, but there is something about it that is very rewarding too.

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  3. I worked at Cup too! I THINK I remember you!

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  4. this was a great post, thanks a lot for sharing it. i stumbled on your blog because i was trying to recall a diner (which should turn out to be the cup.) did this diner have an extensive eggs benedict menu? like it had crab cakes benedict/bleu cheese benedict/californian benedict type thing?

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