1.29.20 / New York / New York

Soho Diner Recreates the Classic NYC Diner for a New Generation

What is a diner in 2020?

When the Soho Grand opened in 1996, it was essentially the first—and for a brief period, only—boutique hotel in downtown Manhattan. In the time since, it’s become a go-to, a perennial favorite that invites newcomers and locals alike, regardless of the hospitality upstarts that have come to populate the neighboring blocks. So, after decades, what does a hotel do to invite new energy, while retaining its status as the Soho staple?

Enter Soho Diner, the new 24-hour diner on the ground floor of the hotel, representing the most accessible and broadly appealing hotel offering in recent memory. “We all felt strongly that for us what was missing was a more casual element,” says Ray Pirkle, hospitality veteran and partner in Soho Diner. “A place where you can eat multiple meals in a week. That sort of place for us was really missing in the area. It’s midnight, where do you go in this part of New York?” Inspired by places like Florent (which shuttered in 2008 after 23 years), which brought in an eclectic crowd and was rife with unpredictable energy, a modern diner became was the most sensible solution. With a street-level entrance, customers don’t even need to walk into the hotel; Soho Diner is poised to be more of a neighborhood haunt than a designated hotel destination. “If you’ve ever talked to Tony Fant or Leonard Stern [president/COO, and owner of Soho Grand, respectively], they’re very much of New York, of Soho, and they see this as being community driven as much as it is for the hotel.”

Soho Diner wasn’t designed to reinvent the concept of the diner—the opposite in fact. “It was much more, what is a diner in 2020?” Pirkle thought about how, historically, diners would evolve and adapt their menus to incorporate different cuisines and newly acquired tastes; everyone could get what they wanted. “Diners are always the one place you can go and not even look at a menu. We wanted as much as we could to be that.” For Soho Diner that meant a complete menu—everything from stacks of pancakes and fully loaded disco fries to vegan matcha milkshakes and Impossible Burgers. There’s a cocktail menu which includes a non-alcoholic ‘Restorative Cocktails’ section, and the wine list includes an of-the-moment orange wine option. “Our sensibilities now just changed; we care where our food comes from, we have different dietary thought process. All diners always have the diet section; they’ve always tried to appeal to different demographics and try to please a lot of different people, and that’s a part of what makes a diner special.”

To Pirkle, this was a natural response to the rise of all-day cafes, the kind of places where people meet up, work on their laptops, grab a coffee to go. The kind of places that merged convenience with congregation. The kind of places that actually caused the decline of diners in the first place, especially as tastes changed. “People weren’t happy going and getting whatever kind of food diners were serving because it wasn’t healthful, it wasn’t thoughtful, no matter how much nostalgia we have for it, how much can you eat like that?” That’s what makes the prospect of Soho Diner, with its mix of quality and familiarity so compelling, especially in the hotel industry. “This is what everyone is trying to capture in the hotels; how do you appeal to all meal periods? That’s why you go to hotels now, and they’ll have a coffee shop, and a bar…what they’re trying to figure out is how to have a cohesive thought process. To me a diner that pays attention to the way people eat today is the perfect antidote.”

Soho Diner is at 320 W Broadway, open 24 hours (alcohol is served until 2am)

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