Guest blogger Samantha Hall-Saladino
Sunday breakfast is an institution at my house.
My husband, Joe, is in charge in the kitchen. Sometimes pancakes or corn muffins, maybe bagels if he’s recently returned from a visit to his father downstate. Always bacon and potatoes. I brew the coffee. Even our dog, Dixie, knows it’s “Bacon Day” – she gets a little bit of bacon grease on her morning kibble on Sundays. Some days, though, as we’re rubbing sleep from our eyes and thinking about getting out of bed, Joe will ask: “Want to go to the Palace?”
The answer is always yes.
The Palace Diner is one of my favorite places in Gloversville. I had never eaten there until about six years ago when Joe, a diner aficionado who grew up in the land of diners on Long Island, wanted to go to a “real” diner for breakfast. So off to the Palace we went, and I fell in love.
The Palace first opened its doors in 1923. The Morning Herald reported: “The new lunch cart of Albert C. Main . . . will open for business this morning. The new car, called the Palace Diner, is of the latest type and has every modern convenience.”
It was built by the Jerry O’Mahony Dining Car Company of Bayonne, NJ. O’Mahony produced about 2,000 diners between 1917-1941 and was the largest manufacturer of the period. Lunch wagons were common and meant to be moved (think like a food truck). But Jerry O’Mahony built the first stationary dining car in America, and it’s not an accident that many diners resemble train cars: they were modeled after the same. O’Mahony helped spark New Jersey’s golden age of diner manufacturing, earning it the distinction of being the state diner capital of the world.
Today, there are only approximately 20 O’Mahony cars still in existence. One of them is in Gloversville.
The Palace was shipped by railroad from New Jersey to Fonda, then transported by truck from Fonda to 62 South Main Street in Gloversville, where it has stood ever since. The original diner was about 40 x 10 feet and looked very much like a railroad car.
Albert Main owned the Palace from its opening in 1923 until 1937, when his nephew, Carlton G. Clute, took ownership. He was only 21 years old. The building itself underwent some changes throughout its life: an addition was added in 1932, and the interior was remodeled in 1951 with stainless steel appliances and new tile. Many of the original features and mid-century changes are still visible inside the Palace today. In 1972, Clute sold the Gloversville Palace Diner to Anthony Sena, an employee. Though Anthony passed away in 2014, the Sena family still owns and operates the Palace.
At one time, it was a 24-hour joint and was one of many open-all-night diners around the city that served thousands of employees in the leather and glove industry and other members of the community. In the 1940s, the Palace catered the noon luncheon at the Elks Club: “We used to cook the food at the diner and take it up to the Elks Club in carriers,” Clute explained in an interview in the Leader-Herald on October 24, 1974. “We catered many other affairs, also: weddings, banquets, and the monthly senior citizens dinners.” But as the leather industry declined and the population followed, the diner started closing at night. Closing time kept becoming earlier and earlier. Many other diners were forced to permanently shut their doors.
After making sure one of us has cash (I am a perpetual debit card user who can’t be bothered to go the ATM unless I absolutely have to, and the Palace only accepts cash), we drive the very short distance to the Palace and park on South Main Street. My favorite time to go is during the autumn. The morning air is brightly crisp. The sound of bells is like a theme song as I pull open the glass and metal door and step inside the grease and coffee heavy air. It feels like a comforting hug. As we climb up the few steps into the diner proper, we cross our fingers that there’s a spot available. We prefer a table, but the counter is also perfectly acceptable.
We’re always greeted warmly by the employees, who treat us as old family friends. Even though I wouldn’t say we are “regulars” (we don’t get the chance to go out for breakfast as often as I would like), it always feels as though we’re remembered – no matter how much time has passed between visits. We order our drinks – two coffees, and an orange juice for me – and don’t even bother looking at the menu. We know what we want. The Palace’s french toast is my favorite, second only to the french toast that my great-grandma used to make for me. Paired with a side of crispy bacon, and a few stolen forkfuls of home fries off of my husband’s plate – it’s pure heaven. And there’s nothing quite like diner coffee.
While we wait for our food, my eyes wander around the small space. Photos and postcards from patrons are proudly displayed on the walls. Though we never go for lunch, I peek at the specials board, absentmindedly thinking that we really should try lunch there some time. But my favorite thing to do is listen to the banter between the other patrons and the staff and watch them work. The size of the place means that you are almost assuredly assumed to be a part of any number of conversations going on across the diner. I’m envious of the easy way the cook and the waitress keep up their discussions while never stopping moving. I love watching the griddle, loaded with all kinds of delicious food, the heat coming off of it in shimmery waves.
I wonder about all of the things the inside of this diner has seen, the tears and laughter and serious discussions of nearly a century. I think about all of the people that have been in this very seat before me and wonder about those who will come next.
I consider all of those who have been nourished inside these walls since 1923 – not just assuaging physical hunger, but the way that these kinds of places and this kind of food can also feed your heart and soul.
As we leave, I always remark that we should come here more often. I live under the assumption that the Palace will always just be there waiting for us when we’re ready for it. I know, logically, this isn’t true. Local landmarks like the Palace need the support of the community to continue on. If you haven’t visited there, or haven’t gone recently, I highly recommend it. The Palace Diner is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 7am to 3pm and Saturdays and Sundays from 6am to 12pm. Make sure you bring cash! And get the french toast. You won’t regret it.
About the Author
Samantha Hall-Saladino is the Executive Director of the Fulton County Historical Society in Gloversville, NY and the Fulton County Historian. She is a life-long resident of the Glove Cities. Though she spends much of her time tangled up in the past, Samantha can also be found on stage in her local community theatre and cuddling her dog Dixie, drinking too much coffee with her nose in a book.