If the New Paltz Village Planning Board confers its blessings, within about two years, downtown New Paltz is going to have its very own classic 1950 diner, serving classic diner food. “It was made when I was born,” says Wayne Bradford, the owner of Bacchus, who is currently in the midst of removing the former 209 Diner from its original site. “I grew up from an economically challenged family in Ellenville, and would occasionally go to that diner when I was a kid. What a treat that was, going to the diner, for a poor family! It was like going to the Ritz.”
Though it may have been a shiny showplace in Bradford’s youth, the 209 Diner has fallen on hard times. The kitchen is in particularly bad shape — “rotted” is the new owner’s word of choice — and there are holes in the stainless steel exterior cladding. But Bradford plans to cover the holes and “polish it back to its original sheen. We’re going to install Thermopane windows and put a new roof on it, put in new insulation.”
As of presstime, says Bradford, “It’s been taken off its foundation and now is sitting on trailers.” The restoration work will be done on a 25-acre commercial property on Foordmore Road in Kerhonkson, home of Bradford’s company Hudson Valley Restaurant Equipment, along with the hop farm that supplies Bacchus’ microbrewery sideline. “We build and service restaurants all over the country, and ship equipment all over the world. This is what we do,” he explains.
Despite the deterioration to the kitchen, other aspects of the old diner retain their original charm, so he has plenty of raw material to work with. “It has such great integrity. The tiles are perfect; the booths are perfect…. It is beautiful inside.” Even the old-fashioned swivel stools at the counter are still intact, he says.
“When the diner first became available, I wanted to buy it,” Bradford continues the tale of the Rondout Valley landmark that had captured his imagination at such a young age. “But when I found out that Ken Brush was bidding on it, I backed off on it.” Brush, the owner of the adjoining parcel, wanted to keep the land and get rid of the diner. “He had a number of offers. The problem was removing the diner and moving it across the county.”
Wayne Bradford did not want to see the iconic 209 Diner disappear from the area altogether. So he conferred with his brother, who owns the double lot and big blue house at 10 South Chestnut Street, right next door to the building that houses Bacchus and the poolhall. The site has 17 parking spaces in the rear — a very rare commodity indeed in downtown New Paltz — and Bradford figured that it would be the perfect spot to bring a genuine vintage diner to the village.
“When we put it there, it’s going to be spectacular,” he exults. “It’s going to be a bacon-and-egg place, reasonably priced. We’re going for nostalgic.” There will be an old-style griddle right behind the counter, he says, and an antique malt machine. The size of the lot will allow construction of a new kitchen, 19 feet deep by 45 feet long, with an 1,800-square-foot basement to provide space for storage and walk-in coolers. The area where the old kitchen was will become the new handicapped-accessible bathrooms. And the former bathroom area will become a drive-through takeout window where customers will be able to order “specialty coffees to go.” No roller-skating waitresses are planned, though, according to Bradford.
For now, the timing of the diner’s relocation rests largely in the hands of the Planning Board, he acknowledges. And the existing structure at 10 South Chestnut cannot be razed until after the end of July of 2017, when the current leases run out. “We hope to have it on-site before the snow flies, and open by spring of 2018.”
Starting out in the mid-1970s with barely a penny in his pocket, gutting and renovating the building that now houses Bacchus, Wayne Bradford has worked his way up to considerable success as an entrepreneur and the owner of multiple businesses. But talking about this latest project makes him sound like he has entered his second childhood. For him, it’s a true labor of love. He’s even keeping the old sign that used to sit atop the building when he went there as a kid. “It’s going to be the 209 Diner on South Chestnut,” he says, with evident glee. Who says you can’t go home again?