For the last few weeks, signs on the door had mentioned that Willie’s Diner was simply closed for renovation. This looks like something more, especially since there was a major renovation about 10 years ago. Will devoted fans from Glen Ridge and Bloomfield make the switch to the Nevada? Is another Dunkin Donuts planning to infiltrate? Stay tuned…(Photo by Paul Zalewski)

Liz George is the publisher of Montclair Local. liz@montclairlocal.news

45 replies on “Where Have All The Diners Gone?”

  1. My four-year-old son told me yesterday, “Willies is broken!”
    Hope they’re coming back….

  2. It’s interesting how, given the camera angle, Willie’s looks as if it’s situated on a large plaza. Whereas we know it’s not, and that it utterly lacks its own parking, which doubtless has to play a role in whatever succeeeds the diner.
    It was great, as other posters have and probaly will note. A place to conjure up the spirit of Edward Hopper in a way The Nevada can never aspire to. Anytime after about 7PM in there, it always seemed to me to be about 1AM.

  3. Nothing in the Independent Press about it? All we had to do was look out the window for a great view of their dumpster. Imagine if I had a digital camera and a blog back then! Anyway, if we knew they were shutting down (August is probably the best time to do it) we would have stocked up on their cheesecake!

  4. Willie’s did have its own parking… down by the library parking lot.
    There’s no way the Nevada will ever be our replacement. The food is exactly like you can get anywhere else, it’s the service that is SO HORRIBLE that it’s crossed off our list forever.
    Luckily, the Nutley Diner is back to normal after staying open through renovation so we can go there for taylor ham and pancakes. Yippee!!!

  5. “boy do i miss the dirt club………”
    Me, too!! And there’s been nothing else like it since. Now they want to close down CBGB’s in Manhattan, too! All due to a greedy landlord, what else?

  6. I’m sure Cathar can help em otu here as well.
    The Dirt was a non-descript (from the outside anyway) building on Orange Street in Bloomfield that housed one of the best punk rock clubs in NJ. NOT to be confused with a club for posers, as was Hitsville in Passaic. A lot of punkers who made it famous played at The Dirt: Cheetah Chrome of the Dead Boys, Talking Heads, The Jitterz, The Products…..those are the ones that come to mind right now. Johnny Dirt, the owner, was a great guy in that he gave a lot of just-starting-out bands stage time, when other clubs would not.
    He would also book acts, like G.G. Allin, that no one else would touch.
    It was always very dark inside and at one point, he had an artist paint black light murals on the walls.
    Before it went punk, the club was a go-go bar (I think back in the mid-70s?), then a it just had the go-go thing during lunch time. It was under a different name then, too, I believe.
    Some of my best memories are from The Dirt.

  7. in the late 70’s early eighties- down by dodd street–run by johnny “Dirt” and his Blondie look alike wife , who at this moment, name escapes me–so many punk-new wave bands played there–
    -it truely was a hole in the wall- but a bar and booths (they eventually took boths out) -dance floor-NYC came to Bloomfield-
    -and we did the eighties thing drink-fall down-drink some more and dance, dance, dance with the likes of Johnny Thunder-Lenny Smith–local bands–Jonathan Richman and the Modern lovers (of the “Something About Mary” fame –
    and kick ass dj too -(Sex Pistols, Clash, B-52’s)
    -ah yes and the occassional slam dance-
    -oh and the cast of characters—-
    —–thanks miss martha u made me smile

  8. I saw Jonathan Richman, there, too! I almost forgot about him. I fell in love the first time I heard him do “Roadrunner” and my fave, “Hospital.”
    One other thing: for $1 you could buy tiny “Dirt bags,” little clumps of dirt wrapped up in black fabric with rhe word DIRT painted on it in dayglo colors. Complete with safety pin so you could wear it!
    Plus Johnny had jars of dirt from all over the world lining the back wall of the bar. In fact, when patrons would go on vacation, they would bring back dirt from their various destinations.
    BTW, Johnny’s wife was name Mernie, or something like that. And she did resemble Debbie Harry.

  9. I will bow to Miss Martta’s recollections of the Dirt Club (walleroo, read NOTHING into this).
    It was, I think looking back, a 3-4 year period in the late 70’s. “Johnny Dirt” was a character. Usually drunk whenever I bounced into him. Very friendly, no businessman, I used to wonder how the bands got paid until someone else reminded me they were generally even more out of it than he was. He also ran, once or twice, “Dirtstock” along the Passaic RIver in Belleville somewhere. And he collected vials of dirt from interesting places. I once gave him one from Stonehenge and he seemed genuinely touched.
    There also used to be, round that time, a bar around the corner right on Bloomfield Ave, that had live country music. Once Eddie Rabbitt, passing through (he grew up in East Orange) on tour, jammed with the house band at the time, Cliff Cherokee (yes, he was a genuine Cherokee) and the Tomahawks. One of those band members, who had a beer route as his day job, in fact told me that when making deliveries he’d sometimes find last night’s band sleeping on the floor of the Dirt Club.
    “Come play at the Dirt Club, it’s good clean fun!” was one of Johnny Dirt’s ad taglines. Another was “The Dirt Club is all natural!” “There’s a lot you can do with this name,” he always said. Nice guy, fundamentally a great saloonkeeper trying to act less than his chronological age via band muscle tees and studded wristbands.
    In addition to the bands cited above, I recall Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers at the Dirt Club once or twice, and also Greg Kihn around the time he had a huge hit with “Jeopardy.” It wasn’t the Diva Lounge, in other words.
    But I don’t know about “best memories,” Miss Martta. More like, it was of the times…….

  10. “It wasn’t the Diva Lounge, in other words.”
    Thank Gawd for that!

  11. Was it the 80’s? Good grief! Shows how much time I wasted back then, years worth. Oh well. I bow to everyone else’s memories here.
    But the crowd wasn’t “tough” kids, let’s get that straight. It wasn’t someplace hopeless like the bitter blocks of Manchester or Glasgow in the UK. More likely, come closing time and the post-club visit to Willie’s, they returned to suburban comfort in towns like Glen Ridge and Montclair and washed the gel out of their faux spikes rather than catch hell from their parents for staining the pillowcases the next morning.
    There is something vastly silly about being a crowd in NJ that mouths along to the Sex Pistols singing “No future….no future for you” and sports t-shirts touting The Damned and Kill Van Kull & the Pollutants in other words. Silly but fun as long as you keep it all in context.

  12. Actually, Miss Martta, I’ve always sort of liked disco. There’s something about people bathing before going out and wearing clean clothes that appeals mightily to me.
    Ditto for country music, by the bye. Just like Merle sings, “When you’re runnin’ down my country, hoss, you’re walkin’ on the fightin’ side of me.” Hence my of my politicized postings.

  13. “There’s something about people bathing before going out and wearing clean clothes that appeals mightily to me.”
    LOL, I agree, Cathar, but even when I was a punker, my clothes and person were always clean, despite my spiked hair and harlot eyeliner.
    But I would rather have root canal than listen to that disco dreck they refer to as music. And how could you stand the disco people?
    Now C/W, THAT I can understand. Ever been to the C/W club out on 78 (exit 40, I believe)?

  14. Yes cathar! I knew you liked disco when you mentioned “Shake Your Groove Thing.”
    And I don’t think you want to “bow” if walleroo is around…:)

  15. You mean the Colorado Cafe, in Watchung? Yes, I’ve been a few times (and even know how to two-step).
    Such are market realities, however, that even there they only “go country” two nights a week now, I believe. It’s tough with no radio station in the area playing the music, either for clubs to advertise on or with which to whip up interest for the music. From everything I hear, few clubs of any sort truly thrive lately.
    But disco dreck? By everything that’s holy, including the complete non-Kiss musical output of Casablanca Records, I beg to differ. Even the Rolling Stones did a many-minutes remix of one of their songs for club play. Even Barbra Streisand did (though in her case, yes, “Enough is Enough” after about 4 minutes). It’s mindless and not worth listening to at home, I freely admit. But in a club or the car…
    And I’m sure you were a neat punk indeed. No doubts there. As for self, the only black t-shirts I wear are for Harley dealerships or custom bike shops.

  16. By way of apology and explanation to both Liz and Miss Martta, there are times when the recordings of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir led by Paul Hillier (which is actually what I play most at home, along with Kenny Vance and Dwight Yoakam) just don’t satisfy. You did indeed find me out there. My soul is dappled with a sequin or two.
    I also used to get paid for covering clubs, to be fair, too. And I eagerly await the return to this area, ladies, of a club with the truly eclectic booking policy of either the old Joint in the Woods in Parsippany or Club Bene in Morganville. But it ain’t gonna happen, I fear.
    Dance on, nonetheless, and enjoy the coming weekend.

  17. Miss Martta said: “NOT to be confused with a club for posers, as was Hitsville in Passaic.”
    Hey, watch it Missy. 🙂 I grew up in Passaic and this was one of my stomping grounds…where I enjoyed watching Robbie Watson & The Speedometers…tho I ain’t no punk. I prefer to call myself, “a rocker”. 😀
    And my husband’s band (noone notable enough to mention) played The Dirt Club once.
    My problem with the probable demise of Willie’s is since I live on Liberty, I’ve given it as a landmark with directions to my house. Otherwise, I prefer The Nevada.

  18. P.S. Thanks for that link Miss M. I didn’t realize The Smithereens were a Dirt house band. I actually voted for one of them (whose name escapes me) for senate a few years back.

  19. It was Paul Westerberg, I believe, who “ran” for Senate.
    And for die-hard metalheads, there also used to be a club in Passaic (in what we called back then “the back of Passaic) where Glen Danzig, who grew up right across the river in Lodi, played with the Misfits in their seminal days, before he fluttered into Satanism. Around the time of the Dirt Club’s heyday.

  20. All these Barista-heads (Cathar, Miss Martta) were former punks?? Who wore tiny bags of dirt pinned to their clothes? This comes as a huge shock after reading countless posts that painted a different picture in my mind. Just don’t tell me that ROC used to slam dance or have a mohawk or anything of the sort … then I’ll really be confused.

  21. I was not a punk, but I did happen to catch the Sex Pistols in SF at Winterland. Intense, and scary. I believe it was the last time they ever played on the West Coast.
    I later saw P.I.L. in a warehouse –
    Mr Rotten looked the same.
    I can’t help wishing I had seen The Clash instead…

  22. One night in the early 1980s (that’s as much as I can narrow it down), at the (now defunct?) Meadowbrook (Route 23, Cedar Grove), where famous Big Bands played in the 1940s, a group of us saw X do its thing. On the way home, we ate at White Castle* (probably the more decadent experience that night).
    *On 23 near Bloomfield Avenue, gone now.
    PS: Saw the Bongos at Hitsville.

  23. Never a punk, Slim. (Not in any sense.) Just a music fan. Never any dirt bag pinned on me, either. But I think you’d find ROC more culturally open than others realize too. (Or have you forgotten that Alice Cooper is a Republican and Jack Kerouac was in his later years?)
    Chris, this may sound scary, but back in the 30’s, as my own sainted mother told me, the very Meadowbrook where you saw X was THE place to hear big bands in the area. All the greats played there, she assured me, and she went to see all of them.
    And thank you for remembering that White Castle. Why they turned it over for an auto dealership I will never understand.
    Pam, I’m not quite sure you missed much with the Clash. They didn’t seem to really know how to play their instruments (which is a constant complaint of mine when I see people live). I saw 3 nights of those “Clash on Broadway” sessions (because a friend ran Bond’s) and t’was a rare moment when the guitars were even tuned correctly. Yet so loud and so crowded that few in the very drunk audience noticed.

  24. “as my own sainted mother told me, the very Meadowbrook where you saw X was THE place to hear big bands in the area. All the greats played there, she assured me, and she went to see all of them.”
    as did my mom.

  25. Drove past Willie’s yesterday and it was totally demolished. One wonders why you would post a sign on the window saying you were closed for renovations and hope to reopen shortly when you were being demolished four weeks later? We went to Willie’s on a regular basis and was quite friendly with one of the waitresses and she never mentioned a thing. Did the employees even have a clue? Meanwhile, our standards for juding diners is how good the breakfast potatoes are since eggs are eggs. Nevada’s are fair. Any suggestions? What about Eagle Rock Diner?

  26. i look at my 4 year old asleep
    and husband snoring on the couch
    and find some delightful pleasure of knowing that deep in my jewlery box is a purple pick a remnant of johnny ramone-(God rest his soul)
    -while unlike some- i was a punk on broad street (yes bloomfield) raised in a four room railroad flat–
    and while i hung at the dirt (sans dirt bag) i had the ocassion to mingle with lenny kaye –and johnathan richman- a memory of an failed attempt of a pick up by joan jett (by joan) at the hole in the wall–and while i didn’t see the Clash on Broadway–they sounded alright to me performing in Passaic singing Train and Vain (a song that involks so many memories)
    who am i to question their guitar playing skills—i just loved their lyrics and their sound( god rest their souls)
    i think back to my youth and smile and shudder–glenn miller played the meadowbrook the same place i saw Billy Idol –
    -while i assure you it wasn’t “someplace hopeless like the bitter blocks of Manchester or Glasgow in the UK”-it was some of our stories or story
    my life then read more like a female version of Jim Carroll’s (hitsville)Basketball Diaries—including “all the people who died”–now it is more like Chrissie Hynde “middle of the Road” (many but not enuff)
    after somehow surviving (because numerous people from those clubs didn’t)-
    i loved those days (sorry Billy)–
    i can only pray for my daughter a sincere love of classical music–
    although when i post this i am hiding the Elvis Costello (numerous venues)classical in case she gets curious on me–
    in the end thank god for my parents –and elf by the way i am registered Republican-but left of center—
    although i’m still filing my nails and watching the detectives

  27. Well, “clarice,” I think you may have missed one point. The rise of punk rock had, over there, much to do with a politicized hopelessness that its American aficionados could never share in, thank goodness. And it probably isn’t too much of a coincidence that just as many former Brit punks wound up in the National Front as they did in the Labour Party.
    As for whether guitars are properly tuned, yes, I still think that means something. As you hope your child develops a love of classical music, I’m sure that you comparably hope that the musicians she listens to are properly tuned and can in fact play their instrumenhts.
    Much is made, for some depressing reason especially by pale, balding rock critics who only aspire to much true world experience, of rock’s immediacy, of its frequent amateurishness, as if it’s all somehow to the good. This is a convenient construct to curry favor with greedy record companies, but doesn’t have much to do with the reality of early rock and roll. Both Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis took piano lessons for manyyears, and it showed. Groups such as the Orioles, Five Satins, Platters and even the Beach Boys spent days and even weeks getting their harmonies just right. The best groups today still do. I hold no brief for the Eagles, for example, but I can always tell how well rehearsed and professional they are, how they prove their respect for an audience by these qualities.
    The Clash, by contrast (along with many other bands from that period), opted for emotionalism. That you liked it doesn’t make it any less painful in retrospect for others to have endured. And surely Elvis Costello, who in the last 10 years has ranged widely across the world of music himself, is the epitome of professionalism today. His looser punk days seem long gone to judge from his recordings (I’ve never seen him live).
    Each individual picks out musical moments that he or she swears by for the rest of his life. Probably mine are much different than yours, that’s all (and they don’t include time spent at the Dirt Club). I remember being on an early morning bus with other inductees heading to Fort Dix for basic training, and someone started singing “In The Still Of The Night” very softly in the back of the bus. Soon, everybody joined in, ragged, unprofessional, the harmonies were way off, but just about every one of us sang. We all knew the words, too, just as you most likely know all the words to songs I’ve never even heard.
    And 9 months later I ran into one of my fellow bus riders in Nam, he was a helicopter gunner in a “hot” LZ outside Phan Thiet whose chopper picked up and saved my squad’s asses from an l-shaped ambush. And when as the squad sergeant I hopped on last, the guy actually started singing “In The Still..” while giving me covering fire. Only when we were safely up about 1000 feet did he take off his shades and hug me and remind me of how long ago we’d first met.
    For a long time, that really was my favorite rock and roll moment of all time.
    Times change. The music manages to survive even awful voices, out of tune instruments and shoddy musicianship. Scared draftees who wind up in Viet Nam even more scared, too. And I’m not even a registered Republican. To borrow from non-rocker Merle Haggard, “Someday we’ll look back and say, it was fun….”

  28. “I don’t think you want to “bow” if walleroo is around…”
    So this is my version of George H.W. Bush’s line about “voodoo economics”, of which he remarked: “It’s the most memorable thing I’ve ever said, and I wish I never said it.”

  29. Cathar-thank u for serving our country and thank u for ur posting –in the end as you see by my name-i fought the law but the law won-

  30. Cstarling, one thing that made service in Nam even half-bearable was the music. I took a subscription to Rolling Stone, which came with a Muddy Waters-Paul Butterfield-Mike Bloomfield two-record set called “Fathers & Sons,” and we basically played the grooves off it for my entire tour of duty.
    (Oh, and then we once went to a USO show that featured Joey Heatherton at the height of her sex kitten status; she couldn’t sing but it didn’t matter.)
    And I like both your name and your posts (although it took me weeks of reading them to realize “where have I seen that name before?”).

  31. my boyfriend and i used to go there when we got tired of six bro’s and eating the same thing everyday. then a crazy waiter who might have been high every time we were there decided to ruin our breakfast. then one day we complained about him to the manager, who seemed very upset with him in the first place, and the waiter looked at us like we had just given him up after all these years of being best friends. yet we didn’t even know the guy.

    “The Cutting Board” – where West Caldwell meets Denville in the Pia Costa Industrial Center on Bloomfield Avenue. Unbelievable!! Worth the drive. Peppers, onions, yum – the works.

  33. In my humble opinion, the ONLY place that knows how to make breakfast potatoes correctly is Raymond’s on Church Street in Montclair. They’re golden brown, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside.
    Most diners undercook the potatoes (some taste like they’re barely cooked at all)and smother them in grease. Yuck.

  34. I wound up here trying to find out what happened to Willie’s! My family and I were on our way there last week… it’s my son’s favorite place, and all we found was a hole in the ground and a pile of dirt! Sad! We had to drive all the way to the Tic-Toc Diner!
    Speaking of dirt… hey, Dirt Club devotees! I used to love the Dirt Club… in fact my band at the time, the Jetsonz, was one of the first bands to play there after Johnny changed the name from Delmar’s.
    Raymond’s is good, and the Blue Stone in Montclair also makes great breakfast potatoes.

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