In 2010 we embarked on a search for Edward Hopper's Nighthawks diner and decided that it never existed--at least not in the form it takes in the painting.
Remembering that one of Hopper's interviewers said it was "based partly on an all-night coffee stand," and Hopper said he "made the restaurant bigger," we might look (if we were still looking) for something small, something possibly even a bit ramshackle--a coffee stand, not a diner.
With the posts here and the Op-Ed in the Times, I've received many suggestions, questions, and memories from readers. (Almost three years later, I still get these emails.) Some crossed my own tracks, others blazed new trails, and others still took us way off, into other cities. Everyone wants the Hopper diner to be in their own town, close to home. It speaks to the power of the painter to create something intimate and desirable.
Some suggested it's a pizza place in Hopper's hometown of Nyack. Reader "RRP", with an impressive memory, recalled the Perry "mystery diner" in detail and came up with the intriguing idea of Riker's triangular coffee shop. And Don Everett Pearce parsed the noir film Blast of Silence to see if Nedick's filled the bill.
Though all of this got my obsessive inquisitiveness stirred up, I had no intention of exhuming the body again. And then a 70-year-old man named George wrote in. His father grew up on Perry Street and George recalls a small stand somewhere near Mulry Square. He got ice cream there. He was sure this was it and that one day, long ago, it might have been a coffee stand.
Using George's description, I went back to Mulry Square and tracked down a small, ramshackle piece of property (blue circle above). It abuts the backside of Fantasy World on 7th Avenue South. I've passed this tiny building many times, but never looked closely at it.
A quick peek around its side reveals that, while it looks square from the front, it is actually built into a perfect pie-wedge shape. I got excited once again. Here we are, directly across from Mulry Square, looking at an old, small, triangular building. One that might once have been a "coffee stand." One that could have been the seed for Hopper's imagination, stretched into a diner, populated with melancholy customers, and elaborated into a Village pastiche.
So it was back to the Archives for me.
Unfortunately, the tax photo shows that this little building held the Graziano Market, an open-faced stand with awnings and a sidewalk loaded with buckets and barrels full of dry goods, maybe, or flowers. Hard to tell. But it was not a coffee shop circa 1940.
Hopper started the painting in 1941. Could it have been turned into a coffee stand by then? Sure, yes, maybe--why not?
After a brief life as the Yavroom jewelry store, #184 is empty again and ostensibly for rent. Maybe someone would like to turn the fantasy into reality and open a coffee shop here, creating a Nighthawks replica. It could be part of the museum that New York is becoming anyway.
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