Though Tom’s Restaurant on the Upper West Side at Broadway and West 112th Street is hardly “forgotten” and has been a beloved area touchstone since the 1940s when the Zoulis family founded it, operating it ever since, there are a pair of cultural milestones associated with it you may not be aware of. The diner has been the site of one ForgottenTour postgame show after a walk in northern Central Park a few years ago, and I was interviewed there for a publication that escapes my memory a few years before that. The food is excellent, though I rarely encounter bad diner food.
The restaurant first entered the public realm outside the UWS in 1982 when singer Suzanne Vega wrote and later recorded an a cappella song entitled “Tom’s Diner” that appeared on her album, Solitude Standing. In 1987, she enjoyed her second top ten hit (the first was “Luka,” a character study of an abused child) when British record producers who called themselves DNA recorded a backing track behind her vocals. Though Vega, who lived in the UWS in the 1980s, was inspired by Tom’s Restaurant to write the song, the words “Tom’s Diner” do not appear in the lyrics. The “cathedral” is likely St. John the Divine, a block away at Amsterdam and West 112th; the actor mentioned is likely William Holden (d. 1981).
Two years later, when exteriors were being considered for comic Jerry Seinfeld’s sitcom, Tom’s Restaurant was used for the exterior of Monk’s Cafe, where the gang (Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer) routinely met for lunch. At first the entire neon Tom’s Restaurant sign was used in the shoots, but (after what I’d surmise as a request from the management for a cut) the “Tom’s” was later excluded from the shoots; the diner appears for the entire run of the show, from 1989-1998.