The Best Assignment in Town: Covering the Transformed Old John’s Diner, Where the Egg Creams and Mojitos Flow

The new Old John’s Diner.

By Bobby Panza

Time loves a hero. For Old John’s Diner on West 67th Street and Amsterdam Avenue that hero is Louis Skibar, a Bolivian immigrant who, upon arriving in NYC in 1984, got his first job in the states working at Old John’s Luncheonette making deliveries. The Luncheonette closed to much dismay amid the pandemic in September of 2020. Skibar, now a prolific NYC restaurateur who’s opened nearly a dozen restaurants around the city, brings a new sheen with refreshed decor, menu and name to his old home place, reviving a classic Upper West Side diamond in the rough. Old John’s Luncheonette is now Old John’s Diner.

“I have always loved diners…”

“It feels amazing to re-open Old John’s!” Skibar told the WSR. “I have always loved diners. I love the nostalgic feeling they invoke and it feels good to see the staff and the familiar faces of the neighborhood once again.” Old John’s Luncheonette originally opened in 1951 on Broadway and West 66th street, the twilight of the golden age of soda shops, before moving to its present location on West 67th and Amsterdam Ave. Walking into this new Old John’s is like taking a step back in time, when egg creams were common and the staff knew your name. It’s true, several members of the team have returned for the re-opening, including two 20+ year veterans. Clarence is working behind the bar and Kathy is still serving.

There are some new faces, too: Chef Grayson Schmitz is overseeing the kitchen and Tanya Ngangan is the dedicated pastry chef.

Behind the masks are some familiar faces.

The Temptations, Whitney Houston, James Brown and the Byrds – Turn Turn Turn! — filled the air. A painting of the Old John’s Luncheonette menu greets you as you walk in, a page from the past as you look around and find bright new classic soda fountain stations with full bar and signage. A glass case filled with cakes and pies delights the eyes, as an engraved tin ceiling fills the skies of this time-defying diner. Karen, Old John’s GM, is the one to thank for the musical selections. They’re big 80s music fans here too.

History repeats itself.

Lionel, a waiter, age 33, got his first job in the city right here at Old John’s after immigrating from the Dominican Republic seven years ago. He told WSR, he was “happy and excited” when he got word Old John’s was re-opening. Lionel originally found out Old John’s was hiring from a friend in the DR. When Lionel arrived in Manhattan, they met up at a bodega on West 171st Street and the rest is history. “We are like family,” Lionel said — and, like the eatery’s owner, he too started as a deliveryman before working almost every job in the kitchen and serving customers today.

A chocolate egg cream and a mojito, please.

I went classic: a chocolate egg cream to start, which was utterly divine, as I took a moment to remember Gem Spa, the cigarette and candy shop that opened in the 1920s on the corner of Second Ave and St. Mark’s Place. The alleged creators of the classic drink, which contains no egg FYI (just in case), closed amid the pandemic in May of 2020. My other hand brought up a mojito with fresh mint a plenty.

Ahhhh.

Old John’s burger cooked medium rare held up great with juices flowing. My compliments to the sesame bun housing the 8 oz. dry-aged NY strip & chuck patty with white cheddar cheese and raw onion. Pickle on the side, I made no substitutions, I had no regrets. Glad I got the fries! Excellent crispiness where ketchup is surely appreciated, but not overly needed.

Dessert all made on the premises, under the direction of a dedicated pastry chef.

Old John’s Diner is a place that transcends time, where generations, younger and older together, can relive the golden age of going out to eat. Next time I bring my Dad for an egg cream, Lionel recommended we try the chicken pot pie.

148 West 67th Street, 212-874-2700, iloveoldjohns.com

For now, you can dine in or pickup, but there’s no delivery for another few weeks. Call for hours, which can change.

 

    1. Neighbor M. says:

      I’m really happy to see a new old business survive and hopefully thrive especially these days.
      Personally, I think the prices are not exactly diner prices. A burger with fries is $19 and a soda is $4. I know it’s really expensive to run a restaurant in NYC but for a teenager or a senior citizen or a simple family dinner it seems too high.
      I’m sure there are those who will argue with me but I’m just noting what I see. I wish them well and I think they will succeed.

      • Bz says:

        It looks great. But I also was surprised when i saw the prices on the menu.

      • Barney G says:

        They are just passing on the cost of rent. If you want restaurants to survive in our neighborhood, you need to help them stay in business. If they lower their prices, they can’t pay rent, they will be gone… vicious cycle.

        • Neighbor M. says:

          Barney G.
          I understand the costs involved and I said I wish them well.
          To me the prices are more than I can personally afford for a simple diner type meal. I know many people who would go to such a place regularly if the price were lower. For some people these prices are more once in a while and for that I prefer to spend it on other kinds of food. I still wish them success

        • Jane says:

          You get 1,000 customers paying $10, or 50 customers paying $20. Everyone is gouging if they can – including the grocery stores. But best of luck to them.

        • Bz says:

          I don’t understand your logic Barney. Those of us who may have trouble paying higher prices should still help them survive? Yes, I would support then if I could. But It is not my responsibility to help them survive. I am puzzled by folks making excuses for skyrocketing prices on the Upper West Side.

        • Bronx Boy says:

          Agree with Barney.

          Yes, the prices are high, but not ridiculously so. Nearby Utopia also has an 8 oz. cheeseburger for $11.25 and the Westside Restaurant has one of unspecified size for $11.30, so if you’re on a budget there are cheaper alternatives. Maybe the Westside Rag can do a comparison to let us know if Old John’s is worth the extra dough.

          All that said, I agree that we should support our local merchants. It’s great that somebody brought back the idea of Old John’s, that was a neighborhood gem. I’ll pay an extra few bucks for that.

    2. Madonna Alvarez says:

      BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY WAY!!!

    3. Jane says:

      The menu looks appealing. Looking forward to trying the new Old John’s!

    4. Joan braunstein says:

      I have always loved this restaurant and am delighted it’s back!

    5. Sims says:

      I can’t wait to try it! I will look forward to their new take on a breakfast menu too!
      So glad to see revivals happening!

    6. Jane Scovell says:

      HURRAH!

    7. Kathleen says:

      BRAVO!!!

    8. Dian Chiamulera says:

      I ate there with my grandson and daughter on a rainy Friday. It was a very good experience to be back at Old John’s. The refurbishment is in good taste and the menu is a bit old and new,
      Try the vegetarian pesto pasta. Delicious.

    9. jimbo gerosimo says:

      I’m not sure but it seems that my messages are flagged.
      Anyway I ate at John’s and was not impressed. I was a steady customer before the renovation. We ate there as a family and they did not have this and they did not have that. All simple requests.They better get it together if they want to stay in business.

    10. Morgan says:

      We just had a delicious dinner here. Attractive upgrades with a beautiful bar and dessert carousel added, but still feels like the old place, with the comforting table layout. Friendly staff. We ate and enjoyed every bite. The place was filled with locals — a real UWS vibe. Welcome Back! 🙂

    11. Mr Meagles says:

      I live on the block and I am so excited to eat here. Menu looks delicious and my son will love all of the old fashioned soda fountain options. It will be a welcome addition to our neighborhood.