Hector’s Cafe, on Washington and Little West 12th Street, like your webmaster has seen a great deal of changes and remained pretty much the same. When the diner first opened in 1962, it was surrounded on all sides by meat wholesalers, packers, and slaughterhouses, which saw their busiest parts of the day in the wee hours before dawn. The elevated trestle hanging over it served actual railroad trains, a freight line that extended from the West Side Yards south to St. John’s Terminal on West Houston Street.
Fast forward to 2013, and the area is a fashion and tourist playground. Pricey restaurants like the Standard Grill compete with Hector’s, which still sells plenty of fare for less than $10. The titular Standard Hotel dystopically straddles what is now the High Line, a 2-mile long park built atop the old rail line, which closed to rail traffic in 1980.
Its gritty brick exterior has earned this diner location gigs onmany Law & Order episodes, and despite the scene that swirls around it, Hector’s remains a haven for quirky characters who’ve been coming by since 1962. Old-school meatpackers, truckers, and trannies sit side by side with Johnny-come-lately club kids and construction workers all looking for cheap, solid eats at odd hours. The interior is brighter, cheerier, and roomier than you’d expect, furnished in snazzy black-and-white tiled walls, shiny stainless steel, cushioned counter stools, and spotless Formica tabletops. Though there’s not a greasy spoon in sight, the menu holds the usual truck-stop fare: Eggs, burgers, sandwiches, gyros, and hearty homespun entrées. Sandwiches are all assembled with fresh meat, thanks to meatpacking-district neighbors. Meatloaf tastes especially comforting drowned with thick brown gravy, and fries make a great companion to fountain treats such as the espresso shake, a smooth, creamy eye-opener. NY Magazine
It’s quite possible that Hector’s inherited the diverse crowd that Florent, on Gansevoort Street, had until a few years ago when an astronomical rent increase drove it out.
I’ll have to wander in someday.