Cy’s Diner, Serving Burgers, Fries, and Childhood Memories
Editor’s note: Shortly after my father turned 90, he did something remarkable; he signed up for a creative writing class. What a windfall! A wonderful storyteller, my father has entertained me and my brothers all our lives. Now decades of memories flood back to him as he records them on paper. I treasure his weekly calls, when he dictates his “homework” to me. As I type them I take a bit of editorial license. In honor of his 91st birthday, I am sharing his latest assignment. The story of Cy’s Diner, told by George Babakian.
This is a story that dates back to the early 1930s, when I was a kid vacationing in the Catskill Mountains with my parents. Before the New York State Thruway was built, getting there from the Bronx was a four- to five-hour trip by car, so we would usually stop along the way. As we were entering Newburgh, N.Y., on one of our first trips, we stumbled across Cy’s Diner on Route 9W and decided to go in for a snack.
With its chrome exterior and red vinyl stools, Cy’s looked like a typical diner. But in my memory, it was a gem, and it became our traditional stopping point. Our visits there were the highlight of the trip for me.
In those days there were a lot of Armenian hotels in the Catskills, and my parents would vacation there with other Armenian families. In time, they told their friends about Cy’s and tried to synchronize their departure times to be able to meet there. I remember sitting in the back seat of the car as a young boy, wondering out loud how much longer it would be before we got to Cy’s.
My mouth watered thinking about Cy’s burgers, served with an avalanche of fries. But Cy’s was not just about the food. Being there felt like a holiday. We’d usually overlap with one or two other families and get to catch up with friends. That meant there would be four or five other kids my age to play with. We would run around and jump into one another’s booths as our parents ate, drank coffee, and played backgammon before getting back on the road. It became an extended family event. It was a wonderful thing to look forward to.
Our trips to the Catskills came to an end after World War II began. Gasoline rationing restricted car travel. But Cy’s Diner remained in our minds as we looked back upon more pleasant times.
Fast forward some 40 years to 1977. I was in the jewelry manufacturing business, and I happened to be in the Newburgh vicinity while working to develop new accounts. Suddenly I remembered Cy’s Diner, and I realized that I was not that far away. “Wouldn’t it be nice to have lunch at Cy’s,” I thought, “and reminisce about the pleasant events of yesteryear?”
I set out in search of Cy’s, traveling along Route 9W – the same road we took up to the Catskills. I was only 15 miles from Newburgh, and my stomach was doing somersaults.
As I pulled up to a stoplight at the intersection of 9W and Broadway, I could not believe my eyes. There, in the center of the intersection, Cy’s Diner was being carted away on the back of a flatbed truck. I assumed it was destined for demolition, and a rapier pierced my heart. In a state of shock, I was unable to move for a time. Had I been driving by an hour earlier, or an hour later, I would not have witnessed that awful scene. But in a way I was lucky. I felt like I got there in time to say goodbye. A kaleidoscope of childhood memories cascaded before me.
Editor’s postscript: After editing my father’s story, I decided to see if I could learn any more about the fate of Cy’s. I stumbled upon an article in a local newspaper entitled: Abandoned Hudson Valley Diner to Become Movie Prop. Cy’s, it seems, was not destined for the demolition heap that day in 1977. It went on, surviving as a diner under different names – and in a different location – for many years. But for some twenty years it stood empty on property owned by a bus company. Offering the chrome structure to anyone willing to cart it away, the company agreed to give it to a movie producer. According to the article, it is set to star in a coming-of-age film that features a run-down diner that is brought back to life. Way to go, Cy’s.