Perched on a hill in Liberty NY is a Hell’s Kitchen diner. How did this place where “men and women in evening dress swap jokes with men in overalls” get transplanted from 11th Avenue to upstate New York?
As the new millennium greeted the west side of New York City, the future was a venue for the 2012 Olympics bid or the further growth of car dealerships on 11th Avenue.
The Munson Diner on the corner of W49th Street was so classic that film and TV directors booked it for shows from Kojak to Seinfeld. Cabbies grabbed a burger or bagel in between rides and cops popped in for breakfast and coffee.
Nearly 20 years on, the vintage diner is in the town of Liberty at 12 Lake St off South Main St in upstate New York — still surviving. “A group of investors from Liberty purchased the diner. They moved it here and opened it in 2005. Six operators later it was abandoned. We saved it. We opened in November 2017,” recalls John Kritikos — who reopened the diner with his father, Christos.
John told us that the pandemic has been a “tough stretch, a roller coaster.” The family built a deck in 2019, the summer before the pandemic, and it proved to be a godsend. “People didn’t feel comfortable inside. The outdoor space saved us,” he said. When we visited the diner, they were adding an awning that would allow for more space all year round, creating extra seating with heating in the winter.
Back at the turn of the century, the Hell’s Kitchen eatery was advertized for relocation as a “classic post World War II diner in New York City” for $33,500. A consortium of buyers from Liberty took on the diner and shipped it west across the George Washington Bridge to their town.
The diner was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006, thanks to Allan Bérubé — best known as a historian of gays in the military in World War II. Its riveted steel frame and exterior of stainless steel and blue porcelain enamel was created in 1945 by the Kullman Dining Car Company of Lebanon, New Jersey.
The story of the current owners connects the dots. Christos told The River Reporter that he drove by while visiting the county from his home in the Bronx. “I had a limousine service in New York for 20 years, but when Uber came along, it all but put me and New York City’s taxi cabs out of business. I visited a monastery here in the Catskills, where a conversation with one of the monks suggested that my life was about to change. It was then that I saw the diner and knew that I had to buy it. I believe that it was meant to be.”
He describes the feeling as “kismet.” His son, John, told us: “My father shared on Facebook that we were going to open the place. One of his cousins messaged him saying that our uncle owned it on 11th Avenue. So it was part of the family! We didn’t know.”
As well as the outdoor dining space, the diner has had a full makeover on the inside. “It wasn’t easy,” John recalled. “When we took over, the place had not been well cared for, but we revived it to its original glory.”
The diner food still resonates with locals — with a respect for the Greek heritage. “Our most popular dish is the gyro platter with our tzatziki sauce. People rave abut our tzatziki sauce.”
To take you back in time — here’s some New York diner terminology to brush up on for your New Munson Diner orders.
Bow-wow = hot dog
Hemorrhage = ketchup
Keep off the grass = no lettuce
Draw one = a coffee
Burn one = a hamburger (or maybe toast)
Adam and Eve on a raft = two poached eggs on toast
Wreck ’em and whiskey down = scrambled eggs with rye toast