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Image 1 from Erik Gould. Images 2 & 3 from the HABS collection, circa 1998. Image 4 circa 1974 by John Baeder
Silver Top Diner

 

A fixture at the corner of Harris Avenue and Kinsley, behind what is now the Providence Place mall since the late 1930’s, the Silver Top Diner was forced to move to Pawtucket in 2001, after a long, unsuccessful battle to stay in Providence. The original Kullman Dining Car is on a parcel of land that the administration of Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr. sold to the developer of the 903.

When this area was full of industry, the diner was one of several restaurants, large factories and small businesses flourishing along Harris Avenue – which is now in the shadows of the Mall. During its heyday, the Silver Top would stay open 24 hours, feeding the city’s factory workers on their way home from the third shift. In more recent years, it has opened after midnight and closed around dawn, catering to the after-the-bars-close crowd.

Court Battles: Pat Brown vs. the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency

From Donna Kenny Kirwan in the Pawtucket Times: The case is a complicated one which dates back to 2007, when the quasi-city Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency (PRA) filed a lawsuit against diner owner Patricia Brown charging that Brown failed to meet the terms of the agreement under which the agency loaned her $100,000 – essentially by failing to get the diner up and running. As such, PRA was seeking to recoup $52,878, plus interest and other costs, that Brown spent (and the PRA provided) to relocate the diner to Pawtucket.

Brown, of Johnston, filed a counterclaim, maintaining that PRA officials misinformed her on certain issues and failed to keep promises about advising her throughout the diner's relocation and re-opening process. A cook and waitress by trade, she said she had been upfront with the PRA about her lack of experience in such matters as writing a business plan, obtaining financing or overseeing construction work.

The case had been substantially delayed after Brown’s original attorney, who had been handling it pro bono, passed away in 2008. Brown eventually found representation through Providence attorney Arthur Chatfield, who also agreed to take on the case for free. Pawtucket lawyer Kevin Horan, the longtime attorney for the PRA, handled the case for the agency in the recent court proceedings.

The verdict? Inconclusive...

After a five-day trial, the jury riled in favor of Patricia Brown and awarded her damages. The money would allow her to find land and reopen the diner. Oddly, a week later, the judge in the trail overturned the jury’s ruling. Seems like the lawyer’s are going to have a field day and AIR would not be surprised if a mistrial will be called and the whole rigamaroll starts all over again.

 

Added in 1937, the car was built by the Kullman Diner Company, Harrison, New Jersey. Signs on the metal roof advertised infra-red broiling, air-conditioning, and vaculator coffee. The exterior is metal, glass, and chrome. Blue and white vertical metal siding wraps around the lower half, and one of the corresponding blue and white awnings still remains off the side. Historic photos indicate a large neon sign once graced its roof.

Powder blue tiles line the base of the counter, and light blue tiles cover the floor. The grill hoods include Moderne style chevrons and moulded stainless steel in a radiating, fan-like pattern. Out of all the reviews I can find on the internet, most of them were charmed by the interior, the brash waitstaff, and the cheapness of the food.

Steve Nov 29 2013 My Uncle David’s father owned and operated the Silvertop diner. I am his Nephew/son. If anyone has original photos we would love to see them. The Katz family has changed my life. Love you uncle Dave and auntie Rozzie. Love Steve

Patricia Brown Oct 14 2012 The Silver Top Diner was found not guilty in charges from The City Pawtucket, PRA, now we just need to rebuild, looking for land & any help anyone can give or ways to get loans! Thank You to the Jury!!!

Chip Keating Sept 12 2010 “Joann’s Silver Top Diner” was a part of the ”Holy Trinity” of late-night greasy spoons when I was a student at Brown in the early-mid 80s. (The other two were Haven Brothers and The Silver Truck.) Many a time did the Silver Top save me from going to bed drunk and hungry, instead of just drunk. One night, we showed up at about 2 am, in a group of about 10 guys, 10 of whom were wasted and 4 of whom (including myself) still had on costumes and makeup from a goofball fraternity ritual earlier in the evening. (We looked like a cross between the band “Kiss” and Marylin Manson.) After engaging in our usual ritual of debating, in front of the waitress, whether to order large sodas or smalls (both were listed on the menu, but we could never perceive any difference in the size of the glasses), some cops came over to our table, and asked, in a menacing tone, what was up with the costumes. Even AFTER they had explained to us that some costumed ex-con had robbed and pistol whipped a gas station attendant in the neighborhood the night before (it was late October, and Halloween was in full swing), my even-drunker-than-I-was friend started getting all agitated and blurting out “Miranda” this and “4th Amendment” that. I kicked my friend in the shins and calmly explained to the cops that we were just your average drunken college kids doing sophomoric, stupid, but relatively harmless college kid stuff. They let us go, we proceeded to enjoy our foot-long chili cheese dogs, and I ended up becoming a lawyer. I owe it to the Silver Top for discovering that I had it in me.

Theresa Tomasso Nov 22 2008 Pat Brown is my aunt. I saw wonderful pictures and heard all about it when my family went out for a visit. My daughter sure thought it was fun. I’m sorry I didn’t get to make the trip. Well, I sure hope I will have the experience someday.

connie degrafft August 29 2008 My sister Jennie (now 91) worked as a waitress at Modern Diner and she met Joe Babs who was the chef who later became her husband. I’ve eaten there many times and loved the grape nut pudding. There used to be a downstair dining room where food and drinks were sent down in a “dumb waiter”. The building next door on Dexter was owned by my brother Bil Lynch. He alter had the paint and wallpaper store on Roosevelt Ave across from the first cotton mill in America, Samuel Slater Mill on the Blackstone River. My family and i have been in California for the las 41 years but I remember a lot of wonderful things about Pawtucket.

Carol April 30 2008 My father, Leo Katz, owned the Silver Top Diner since it’s inception. Prior to the silver and chrome structure transported from New Jersey in the late 30’s, there was a wooden diner owned by he and his father. My family all worked in it – as I was growing up – it was, indeed, a bustling place for a unique mix of society – there were the produce workers from across the street (where my father purchased fresh produce daily) – I learned to pick the best melons as I accompanied him – factory workers from Brown & Sharpe, Armour meat company, and Executives who enjoyed good home-made food. I’d worked the busy early-morning shift (summers- I was still in school) and at 11:00 could sit down for a great breakfast – fresh homemade corn and bran muffins – and the best coffee in town. In those days we had our own baker, a Portugese gentleman, who made fresh homemade pies. Each day the diner had a different lunch special – Thursdays was New England Boiled Dinner and Fridays had delicious Mattahan Clam Chowder. I remember my Dad coming home one morning (having worked all night) and very excited as Louis Armstrong had stopped in the Diner with a bus load of his enterage traveling on Tour. My Dad owned the diner for about 30 years. I always wondered what happened to the gigantic neon sign with yellow top as it was missing AFTER the John Baeder painting. Seeing pictures of the diner is like seeing pictures of the home you grew up in. I spent so much of my childhood there – waiting on customers.

Mike P According to an article in the 2/27/07 Pawtucket Times, the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency is preparing to go to court to either acquire and sell the diner or find some other way of making it go away. Plans to reopen it have been at a standstill for five years. Owner Pat Brown may file countersuit.

Michael Sypniewski I remember this place as “Joanne’s Silvertop”. It was listed in “The Preppie Handbook” published in the eighties as a preppie destination for after-hours. When I occasionally went there Joanne was the one cooking and she smoked while she cooked! She also had a fowl mouth as I recall, but ,wouldn’t you if you had to work there late nights?

Stacey Katz My grandparent, Leo and Dorothy Katz were the original owners of the Silver Top Diner. My grandfather had this diner built and brought this himself up to Pawtucket, RI where he and my grandma ran it for many years during the war. My father, David and my aunt Carol (the children of Leo and Dorothy) have many wonderful stories and memories to share about owning ad working in the diner for all those years.

Patricia Brown I am Pat Brown, owner of the Silver Top Diner. Thank You for the kind words about the diner, we are trying to rebuild but always someone stopping us, we are hoping to see the diner back in Providence soon, that’s what we are trying for. I am sure you will see us in the news having to fight again but I keep praying to win this battle to rebuild the diner. That diner someone saw on Westminister St is not the Silver top, I believe that is the old Arnolds, The Silver top sits under a blue tarp on Middle St. in Pawtucket. Do a Google search & you can read & see where the diner is. Anyone who wants to email us send email to, silvertopdiner06@aol.com Thanks again for missing us.

rudysdad Sad to hear the Silver Top’s moving out of Providence, but glad it has a new home in Pawtucket. Back in my carousing days (the mid to late 90s) the night wasn’t over until I stopped at the Silver Top for a huge breakfast. When the diner hit its peak in the early morning, every stool at the counter was occupied; late arriving friends would squeeze into an already crowded booth. The jukebox would come to life. People would shout orders to the (amazing) wait staff, and they would shout to the cooks. It was very noisy. A line would form at the door. It was always almost chaos. But somehow seats were found for everyone. Your cup was filled with coffee. The kitchen didn’t explode under the pressure, as you almost feared it might, but sent you your food, exactly as you ordered. It was rarely not hot, and always good. Part of the Silver Top’s appeal to me was the oddball clientele someone mentioned above – rockers from Lupos, night-owls, frat boys, gays and drag queens, students, downcity “characters”, and who knows who, or what, else. In my experience everybody got along pretty peaceably. It was only the drunks or the occasional rude customer causing a problem. I forget the name of the Silver Top’s owner at the time but I always admired her skill at running the place, and wished her success keeping the doors open in the teeth of so much upheaval, with Providence Place going up and the old markets adjacent dead or relocated. It couldn’t have been easy. Around then the crowd I ran with decamped to the Seaplane on Allens Avenue, closer to the clubs we went to. We went less and less often to the Silver Top. My days of drinking and clubbing, and big breakfasts, were over.
    It seems ironic (and ill-omened) that the city that invented diners is in its so-called renaissance uprooting the Silver Top, forcing it to join its sister, the Modern Diner, in Pawtucket. So many of the places that kept the city alive (well, barely) in its Medieval Era, are being pushed out, shut down, moved to the periphery; in the way of the next new, essential parking garage or luxury condo heliport. Well, no good deed ever goes unpunished. If those small shops and alley bars and live music clubs hadn’t stayed behind, making not only noise but money, when every other business pulled up stakes, Providence might still be known as that place you drive through to get to Cape Cod. Cities evolve, like everything else. But I cling to the belief that a city is, above all, an open, not a gated, community, belonging to anyone who wants to work and live in it. After a good early start remaking downcity for everyone’s benefit, now private interests seem in the saddle. What they’ll make of the city remains to be seen, but I doubt the result will be anywhere near as welcoming and open to all as the Silver Top. I think I’ll like the new skyline, though.

Don Memberg My company, Modular Diners, Inc, is now the exclusive source for Starlite model diners. Starlite diners were manufactured by Valiant Diners until recently when they decided only to sell kitchen equipment. These are the same diners that have been sold nationally and internationally. Modular Diners is working with Valiant to supply the equipment and plans for their formerly-manufactured modular diners. I would appreciate a mention and a link to my website.

Jon Reed I remember going to the Livingroom to see punk rock shows back in the late 80’s and early 90’s and we’d always stop off at the Silvertop for some food before we drove the 1/2 hour back to South Kingstown. I live in Austin, TX now, and the last time I went by to check out the old neighborhood, there was nothing there – the Livingroom is completely gone, as is the Silvertop and now there’s some big mall there? Man, that used to feel like it was way out in the middle of nowhere and now it’s the backside to a mall!

Jack McCabe Born and raised in Providence, I remember it well. I only ate there a few times, when I was in my teens it was a place where guys working over at the Produce would chow down and some late night bar types after hours. I noticed in the more recent times that it became a hip place for college kids to mix with the peculiar mix of downtown night dwellers. Regardless of the odd client mix… the food was always hot and not expensive… coffee please!

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