Review: The Star 09-13-2007
Jo Matyas, Special to the Star
MANCHESTER, N.H. By 8
a.m. it's possible "even likely" that you'll have to wait for a
seat at the Red Arrow Diner, a classic of its kind awash with
scrubbed linoleum counters, neon signs and those clammy plastic
chairs that stick to your skin.
You can tell the regulars and
there are a lot of them by the slightly miffed looks on their
faces. The Red Arrow has been running 24 hours a day since the
doors opened in 1922, and the regulars like to know their stool
at the long counter or their usual table hasn't been taken over
by gawkers from out of town.
Daytime is easier than night.
Try to snag a spot on any Saturday at 1:30 a.m. and you'll
almost certainly have to stand in line.
"Our busiest shift is
always the bar rush, 12:30 to 3:30 in the morning," explains
Carol Sheehan who became the third owner of the Red Arrow when
she bought the business in 1987. Breakfast is popular all day.
About 5,400 eggs are served each week, about one every two
Things weren't always so good for the classic
American roadside diner. In the 1950s, they were the heart of a
community. Romances blazed and fizzled in the booths, business
deals were sketched out on paper napkins, local gossip competed
with whatever was hot on the jukebox. But roadside diners were
edged out of the market by the rise of the ubiquitous fast-food
joint, and by the late 1960s, business was in a serious slide.
Now, fuelled by a nationwide wave clamouring for all that is
nostalgic, the classic diner is enjoying a comeback, renovated,
rebuilt and restored. And, once voted one of the top 10 diners
in the country by USA Today, the Red Arrow seems to be leading
Hometown boy Adam Sandler eats here when he's in
town (there's a burger named after him). And the stools at the
long counter have supported other public figures, like one-time
vice-president Al Gore and Hollywood legend Paul Newman.
waitress recommends anything with chili or the pie, even though
the morning clock is still in single digits. The Red Arrow is
famous for its chili (the breakfast menu has a highlighted box
drawn around the famous hash brown special with grilled onions,
chili and cheese, $6.50 U.S.), its made-from-scratch pies (by
the slice or whole pies to go) and of course the anytime
breakfast menu that features different combinations of toast,
eggs, bacon and sausages.
At one time, the city of Manchester
was an industrial force to be reckoned with. Known as New
Hampshire's "Queen City," an enormous complex of cotton spinning
mills, stretching for two kilometres along the Merrimack River,
was the economic engine that made the city the largest producer
of cotton textiles in the world.
Along came the 1929 stock
market crash, ushering in the Great Depression. Industrial
cities around the world saw their power and strength come to a
Along the wide, turbulent Merrimack River, a
large-scale restoration of the decaying Amoskeag Millyard began
about 15 years ago, and in 2006 the classic red brick complex
now home to offices, day spas, antique shops and upscale office
space won a prestigious National Preservation Honor Award.
the time of the 1929 stock market crash, the Red Arrow had only
been open seven years. Barely enough time to set any records for
customers served or eggs fried.
Years ago, there were five
Red Arrow Diners in Manchester, but the original on Lowell St.
is the only one that remains, the only one to weather the
region's economic ups and downs. And it's the only one to see
"smoke-free" dining become the norm.
"I still can't really
believe it myself," says Sheehan. "It smells so nice in here
now, you can actually smell the food!" The regulars seem to
appreciate the change business increased 20 per cent.
come in just to be entertained," adds my waitress. And that is a
feeling even money can't buy.
Jo Matyas is a freelance writer
based in Kingston, Ont. Her trip was subsidized by New Hampshire