NO DINER IS WORTH THE SALT IN ITS SHAKERS unless it includes a bunch of old guys who meet each morning to read the paper, drink coffee, eat eggs, and bitch about the world. I want to grow up to be one of those guys. I might not make it.
Another diner died on Sunday — Coffee Corner in my home city of Montpelier. Without Coffee Corner, Montpelier will still be the greatest city on Earth. But it will never be the same city. Not for me, not for so many of us who live and work here. Our community has lost some of its soul.
No great American city is complete without a diner. Our diners are like English pubs — where we meet neighbors, face to face (not on Facebook), and talk about everything from pot to potholes to politics. In diners we get the news that doesn’t make the newspapers: Who had a knee replacement? Who’s good in the mayor’s race? What’s crazy in the Statehouse today?
And when we argue, we smile. Something about coffee and eggs and homefries seems to make for cantankerous — yet civil — discourse. In diners we solve problems. Or at least we try. And even when we don’t solve a thing, which is most of the time, at least we sit together for a meal. And that’s sacred, more so than what happens in noisy bars (especially in bars with TVs).
Coffee Corner’s closure, after nearly 60 years at the corner of State and Main, is my second major diner demise in seven years. When I lived in Plainfield, we lost River Run, where artists, farmers, firefighters, educators and various misfits would meet for Jimmy Kennedy’s epic pancakes and famous catfish breakfasts. Plainfield Village has never been the same.
In big ways, Vermont is caught up in an unwelcome homogenization. Far too many of our essential services are now foreign-owned: banking, utilities, retail commerce, even ice cream. National chains advance on our communities, sapping our originality and options, gradually making Vermont too much like Anywhere, USA, where Denny’s passes as a diner and Panera (all sugar, no flavor) masquerades as a bakery.
Even so, our local food movement rises in resistance. Many of us in Plainfield moved on to Maple Valley cafe, where my Saturday-morning breakfast group — friends I’ve known and dined with for decades — remains a highlight of my week. (Hey, I’ll even give up birdwatching in May for this group; well, okay … sometimes.)
The Friday-morning breakfast group at Coffee Corner (that’s us above) is mulling over options; we’ve got a few in Montpelier. But none will be like Coffee Corner. We wish Amy, Stacey, Heather, Karen, Mike and Sean, and everyone else at the diner only the best on their new adventures. We’ll miss them all. We’ll miss the counter, the chef’s special, the Manghis’ bread. We’ll miss Louise (that’s her watching over us in the photo) and we’ll miss Leeds Brewer, who helped bus our table for when his group arrived next. We’ll miss the coffee and hot sauce and hot conversation.
And from behind that illustrious front window, we’ll miss the big view of our little city — a city now missing Coffee Corner.