The owner of the recently opened Classic's Cafe at Greenwich Street and Christopher is convinced that his restaurant was the original diner in Edward Hopper's Nighthawks painting. Fiko Uslu says he has proof. He's so sure of it, he's renaming the restaurant "Nighthawks."
Not so fast.
NY Post, attempted reconstruction of "Nighthawks"
Back in 2010, I went on an exhaustive search for the original diner. Digging through the Municipal Archives, through tax photos and Land Books, my research proved that the diner was not at Mulry Square as widely believed. Still, I kept searching, checking out every possible corner in the vicinity. In the end, I came to the conclusion that there was no Nighthawks diner--except in Hopper's imagination, a scene cobbled together from bits and pieces around Greenwich Village.
I wrote about my search in an Op-Ed for the New York Times, and later interviewed Whitney curator and Hopper expert Carter Foster, who agreed with my conclusion. “Hopper was a synthesizer,” Foster told me, adding that he believed the distinctive curved glass for the Nighthawks diner was inspired by the prow of the Flatiron Building.
The matter seemed put to rest. But there's just something about the Nighthawks diner that keeps people hoping.
Since publishing the news of my search, I continue to get emails from New Yorkers who insist that the diner is really on this corner or that. They tell me about a triangle-shaped restaurant or a flower shop on one street or another. They send photos. They want desperately to believe that a moody old diner with a curved window, shaped like the prow of a ship, once stood in Greenwich Village and that Edward Hopper painted it exactly as it was in real life.
I understand the wish. I wanted it to be real, too. But all the evidence is against it.
Going back at Classic's Cafe, the latest contender for the title of "Real Nighthawks Diner," it does have some of the qualities--a (sort of) triangular shape, a rounded corner--and it's located on Greenwich Street (though Hopper said the diner was inspired by a structure on Greenwich Avenue).
I thought I'd have to go back to the Municipal Archives and dig through microfilm for the 1940 tax photo of this building, but the NYPL's digital collection saved me the trip. Here is a photo of the cafe's building in 1941, just one year before Hopper dated his painting:
While there might be a restaurant in the space, it bears almost no resemblance to the Nighthawks diner. The window is not of a single, curving piece. There is no "prow," but a pair of recessed doors, just as Classic's Cafe has today.
NYPL zoomed in
There are many, many buildings shaped like this in Greenwich Village. And there were many more back in 1942--that also contained restaurants. Some of them may have provided Hopper with a flicker of inspiration, but none of them were the Nighthawks diner. That's the story I'm sticking with--unless the owner of Classic's Cafe can produce real proof. Until then, Mr. Uslu, tell your landlord to hold that rent hike.
The more compelling question, at this point, is: Why do people keep insisting it was a real place? What is it about Nighthawks that we just can't let it go?
Follow my entire search for Nighthawks here: