January 27, 2014

By Arthur H. Gunther III

It may seem hilarious and even back-woodsy, but there was a moment, a long one, when at 2 a.m. in a diner, say Hogan’s in West Nyack, N.Y., when you instinctively pulled up your feet as the floor guy came by, splashing Clorox and water at the terrazzo floor. Hey, if he hit your shoes, they were washed too — for free.
Hogan’s, the old one, the place that looked like Edward Hopper’s image of a diner, was not fancy, although the food, short order mostly, was so well practiced a craft there that it could have been cordon bleu. Hogan’s would not be fancy — it’s clientele would not have that. It was just a down-to-earth comfortable joint, and joint was OK. It connected the dots in your life.
I’d hit the place, sometimes, after my photographer shift at the also old Journal-News in nearby Nyack. I might sit at the counter, where stools were placed on a bulkhead, so you didn’t worry about the floor guy. Other times I was too tired for that and needed a rest at my back, so I took to one of the 8 or 10 booths along the defining front windows of the railway car-like diner.
Also at about 2 a.m., the waitress would come by and swing a fresh bottle of ketchup across the table, and you hardly noticed that either, reflexively reaching for it with left hand while grabbing the near-empty with the right and then swinging that back to her in a return shot. You did this with the sugar, too.
It was life in an old diner, and if you were a regular like me, you were family, so you helped out. You may not have known the cook, the waitress, the floor guy by name, but a wink or nod was all you needed to keep in touch anyway. Diners weren’t much about talking.
Ketchup was a quality marker in the old diners. Hogan’s used fresh stock to refill, but some others watered the mix. Aficionados, and they went to old diners, too, understood that ketchup, a freshly filled bottle, had to be slapped at the bottom to get the flow going. Or you could use the old slide-in-the-table-knife trick. If a full bottle poured easily, it wasn’t choice.
Like everything else at Hogan’s, the ketchup passed mustard. In that, and in the place itself, the new day’s anchor was set at its mooring for night newspaper stiffs like me.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. Contact him at This essay may be reproduced.

4 thoughts on “AS THE KETCHUP FLOWS …

  1. For me Art, the diner was located just outside the back gate to the US Naval Training Center in Great Lakes, Illinois. The Holiday Diner was just like Hogan’s would be a decade later. A silver railroad car with red stripes down the length. Out on a 48 hours pass from my Navy training we would “Make it to Hollywood.” about 2 or 3 in the cool morning. Winds blowing off the nearby Lake Michigan added to our appetites. The problem though was the lack of jingle in our pockets. We had enough coins to afford a cup of Joe, then a quarter. The waitress would slop a cup on the counter in front of us and ask, “Anything Else?”
    “”How about some crackers?” we would reply knowing they were free. Crumbling the cracker packets in the saucer for our coffee we would then add the garnish of at least a quarter cup of ketchup add some salt and pepper and we had a late night snack. Lacking nutrition, but filling the stomach of a twenty year-old.

    Funny, the old waitress never threw us out, but the dishwasher sure went out of his way to slosh the bleach and floor cleaner on our spit shined Navy broughams.

    At the Diner Memories of 2AM….

    • What a great portrait you paint of your Navy life and that diner, Jim. My great-uncle was a CPO in old Navy, WW I. Tattoos everywhere.

      • God Bless your great Uncles courage. That was the OLD Navy….Iron men and wooden ships. I never had the courage to have a tattoo applied to me…I knew it would hurt LOL Great story Art

  2. I remember Hogan’s diner vividly. I used to hang out with a group of friends in the 70’s and we always ended up there. Good memories…thanks for sharing.

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