The Most Musical Diner in Manhattan


We here at AudioFemme recognize that music isn’t necessarily something everyone seeks out, and we certainly believe that everyone experiences it in their own way. We try to be as inclusive as possible, though our own proclivities certainly skew the genres we cover here. There’s a whole segment of the population we rarely come into contact with while show-hopping at CMJ or partying at SXSW. In fact, after living here for three plus years, I’ve never been to a Broadway show (with the exception of seeing Cats on a field trip in 9th grade) so I’ve only ever come into contact with one particular segment whilst doing karaoke, and even then, I admit, I usually meet these types of music enthusiasts with a bit of eye-rolling skepticism. I hope my honesty here will be appreciated and an apology for my gut reactions rendered unnecessary. The type of which I speak is the musical theater hopeful, a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed iteration of music fan willing to belt out a tune from Fiddler on the Roof with a moment’s notice. It’s not that I have a particular disdain for the showy-ness of this action, rather for the showy-ness of showtunes themselves. And yet somehow, I found myself in Ellen’s Stardust Diner, renowned for a singing waitstaff who idolizes Adele, and between her repertoire, a back catalogue of jazz standards, and songs from Disney’s The Little Mermaid, showtunes were the best way to showcase the raw talent of these struggling artists (quotation marks around raw talent and struggling artists are implied, but excluded because I don’t want to seem like too much of a snob).

After my roommate’s commencement (she’d just gotten a masters from SVA’s DCRIT program), we stumbled into this Midtown tourist trap based on the fact that they served the shitty diner food we craved and also the fact that the graduate’s mom’s name is also Ellen (though in our house she’s also known as Optimist Prime). What transpired upon entry was less dining experience and more like Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief. First, denial: I’d sort of glossed over the fact that Yelp reviews of Ellen’s Stardust Diner made mention of a singing waitstaff, and I straight up ignored the banner emblazoned across the entrance announcing the same. I figured that, at worst, the staff would assemble en masse once every hour or so to perform a song or two 1950’s barbershop quartet style (which has potential to actually be kind of nice). At best, I thought maybe our waiter would improvise all ordering conversation in a sing-song manner, rattling off the specials to the tune of Frere Jacques and providing updates on our orders metal-style the way Domino’s online service does when you get a pizza.

Sadly, neither scenario turned out to have a basis in reality. The waitstaff here do not just sing, they are all trying really really hard to impress both the customers and each other. They remind you of the fact that they are trying to “make it” every fifteen minutes by passing around a bucket asking for additional tips (besides the ones you’re gonna give them for bringing you food and boozy shakes) and expressing their deepest Broadway desires between ditties. Denial quickly turned to Anger. We considered walking out, unable to handle the onslaught. But then I saw a fellow diner’s plate, which included a hefty portion of golden waffle fries. Everyone knows waffle fries are the most delicious and under-rated type of french fry. Plus, there was booze in my shake, even if it wasn’t much booze and carried an 11$ Midtown-inflated pricetag.

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this guy’s star is rising so fast his face is blurry, but I’m sure he’s got a headshot somewhere

Lots of show choirs from the Midwest come here as an addendum to their Big Apple field trips and while it’s all in the spirit of fun, I secretly hope it serves as more of a sobering realization. Who better to emphasize to these kids that coming here and hitting it big on Broadway doesn’t just happen – that they’ll be lucky to perform their shitty showtunes while also carrying around a tray of overpriced entrees, and most of the time they’ll just be waiting regular old tables and struggling to pay rent and wondering why they ever left the safety of Iowa. It was kind of a reflection of my own struggles as a writer, and the food had yet to arrive, so Depression set in.

That Depression deepened when the food arrived because besides the waffle fries, everything was abysmal. But here’s the thing – eating at Ellen’s was somehow still hilarious. Though we could barely believe where we’d ended up there that afternoon it’s one of those places that can only exist in New York City. It’s so outrageously over-the-top that you are helpless to write it off totally, and even if you can’t actually enjoy yourself, there’s ample opportunity for ironic enjoyment of the kitsch factor. The staff wants you to have a good time, and you can sit there like a snobby asshole or you can fucking request a song and get into it. We passed into Acceptance while gnawing our overcooked burgers, and even cracked some jokes about how this would be a great place to take someone coming down off hallucinogens, but only if you didn’t tell them what was about to happen, and/or pretended no one was singing at all.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]