Billing itself as “The Best Free Show on Broadway,” Ellen’s Stardust Diner has been open since the 80’s, but it’s décor, memorabilia and food will take you back to the 50’s. However, what are you really going to see at this popular tourist destination in the heart of Times Square? The singing wait staff.
With names like “Slick,” “Sassy,” and “Lady Liberty,” these young men and women make no bones about why they are there. Well sure, they’re there to make a buck waiting on tables like thousands of others in NYC, but these folks are all aspiring actors and singers. Sure, you may be asking, “Then what makes them different from any other wait staff in the city?” The answer would be: This gang can truly sing! As one of the singers, I mean waiters, put it, “We’re desperately trying to get out of this diner and into a Broadway show.” He went on to explain, this job allows them to develop their singing and new material. And many of them have gone on to Broadway, as well as a few making their way to American Idol.
They say they’re inspired by owner, Ellen Hart, who began her career as an actress and model. Hart is also a former “Miss Subway .” It may not be Miss America, but it’s certainly interesting enough to be worth lining the walls one of the largest collections of “Miss Subways” memorabilia around in addition to all the other fun 50’s artifacts.
Songs from Abba to the Ziegfeld Follies are belted out as the waiter or waitress makes their way throughout the restaurant and its two levels. Show tunes from Broadway favorites past and present are sung with the gusto of a Broadway audition. At times, the audience is encouraged to sing along, or perhaps become members of an air guitar band or entourage to the wait staff. There’s no question this is not the place for someone who appreciates a quiet, intimate dining experience.
At times, colored lights, strobes and spotlights highlight the waiters as they dance in the aisles and on a specially designed platform above a number of the tables. Giant screens hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the restaurant allow for real time tweets and comments from diners. “Time of my life!”, “Ridiculously epic!”, and “I love being able to eat at the same time as listening to this entertainment!” were just a few that appeared while I was there. (Yes, there were some “haters” too—but such is the case when allowing for social media reaction.)
In addition to a hearty menu of diner fare, the ample dessert menu included the more traditional Red Velvet and Strawberry shortcakes along with all kinds of ice cream sundaes, as well as others like the “Flying Nun” cake that may take certain generations back a bit.
Celebrating a birthday or anniversary while there? Be prepared for the New Yawker styling’s of the song “Happy Birthday to Youz”, and waiters throwing straws as they head into the homestretch of this rendition.
There’s no doubt, regardless of whether you have any aspirations to be in the “big lights of Broadway” yourself, if you “Don’t Stop Believin’,” you may just end up with a little “Stardust” rubbing off on you.