As the great old coffee shops of New York are vanishing fast, Tom's Restaurant of the Upper West Side--beloved by many, famous and not, embedded in the cultural consciousness by Suzanne Vega and Seinfeld--is getting its own documentary. I asked filmmaker Gian Franco Morini a few questions about his project.
What attracted me about Tom's is the fact that is one of the few original diners that survived in this ever changing city. This establishment has become a true landmark and a stable element of the neighborhood. It gives a true service to all of the clients, and serves its costumers through thick and thin. It's the result of the "American dream" of the Zoulis family, that dedicated itself to this business through different generations. This American-Greek family is the real miracle behind Tom's.
Why do you think so many people chose to immortalize Tom's in song, TV, film?
I believe that what makes Tom's special is the fact that its clients are people from all walks of life, from Columbia professors and students, to artists and musicians and comedians. For sure its position next to the University helped a lot in making it such a special place. It's the perfect spot for an artist to just sit and observe the people and the world passing by.
New York's coffee shop/diners are vanishing fast. What do we lose when we lose places like Tom's?
Diners like Tom's are way more than simple places to eat. They are "home outside of home." The waiters know their clients by name (often they even gave them a nickname). You are not a number, you are a person. Disabled and elderly people find in Tom's a source of good affordable food, a smile, and a known face. In this world of solitude and uncertainty they are something you can count on, every day. And this is not a minor thing. I believe they have a real social function and they keep the neighborhood together. For example: Even if the don't normally deliver, they made it a point to serve certain special clients when they get too old or sick to come in, or their children move away. Try to explain something like that to a big chain. In short, they are human. In the best possible sense of the word.
[And here's what happens when someone in need walks out without paying their bill.]
Click here to watch Suzanne Vega drink coffee in Tom's and talk about her song and it's story of urban alienation.