A Trip To Times Square and Ellen's Stardust Diner
After recently returning from my first trip to New York City, I’ve quickly realised that perhaps one of the most difficult questions to answer is; what was the best part?
It could have been the spectacular, cinematic views provided from the Rockefeller Centre, or maybe the peaceful tranquillity of Central Park - a haven in a bustling city. The High Line offers a scenic walk above the city, and Grand Central marks the start of iconic locations from Gossip Girl. Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge takes you to a hipster’s paradise in DUMBO. From the Empire State to the Statue of Liberty, New York City has so much to offer, but if you’re a theatre fan you’ll gravitate towards Times Square and Broadway.
As the epicentre of entertainment, you find street entertainers placing snakes around your shoulder and the infamous Naked Cowboy. Sitting on the TKTS famous red steps, towered by posters for current productions, you really do feel part of something special as day turns to night and the city illuminates. Remembering that energy, it suddenly becomes clear that the Times Square part of Broadway was without doubt, the highlight of the trip.
Broadway is 33 miles long and is the oldest strip connecting the North and South of New York City. Times Square is located in Midtown Manhattan and is named after the New York Times who used to print their papers there until 2007. This famous location is said to have been “Disneyfied” when Disney purchased the New Amsterdam Theatre, currently showing Aladdin, on 42nd Street. As the theatre district, here you can see comedy clubs, bars and of course the ever-changing productions of plays and musicals both “on-Broadway” (located on 40th - 54th Street and in sixth - eighth avenue) and “off-Broadway” which are usually smaller scale and located outside of the “Broadway Box”. Whilst in the city, I managed to catch Mean Girls at the August Wilson Theatre. You can read my review, here.
Eating in Times Square is hectic, as it not only attracts tourists who are there to shop and get the perfect selfie, but is the desired place for theatre-goers before their show. Of course, you’re offered TGI Fridays, an Applebee’s and various fast food joints. However, if you want to really experience Broadway, I recommend biting the bullet and queuing to dine at Ellen’s Stardust Diner.
For reference, I joined the queue at 4:30pm on a Thursday evening in September, I was seated within 20 minutes and was able to witness the house lights dim and disco lights begin at just after 5:30pm. However, around the block there are signposts laid out for Ellen's diners to avoid them blocking doorways as the queue can stretch for over an hour at peak times.
The 1950’s themed diner located on the corner of 51st Street is home to the singing servers. Whilst taking your order, ensuring you’re comfortable and serving food and drinks, the staff are called to perform either alone, as a duet or in a group, offering a variation of classic pop hits and songs from musical theatre from 7am - midnight. Owning roles in past, current or future national productions, the talent is unbelievable and they really do perform. Taking complete control of the multi-level diner, they ensure that wherever you sit, you’re part of the performance, accompanied with props and a confetti shooter. The atmosphere is electric as you’re surrounded by old musical memorabilia, images of the Miss Subway contestants and the food and drinks are presented on retro dining plates and cups, giving an authentic experience. Famously, the diner has been used for shotgun wedding receptions and is thought to have the biggest New Year's Eve party in NYC - it even features in the 2011 movie, New Year's Eve.
Presented by a fabulous emcee, who celebrates the successes of the company informing us of their current theatre credits, the diner asks for donations to fund the singing, acting and dancing classes of the staff and explains what the kind donations have been able to provide in the past. Throughout a song they will send round a bucket named Philip, as in "fill up" to collect any spare change. I learned that in 2018, seventeen employees left to star in professional productions.
For your indulgence; and I mean indulgence, as the portions are perhaps the largest I was presented in the City, there is a variety of American classics including rainbow bagels, mac n cheese bites, burgers, club sandwiches and chicken and waffles to choose from. The menu is a little on the pricey side at first glance, with a basic beefburger served with waffle fries costing $19.50 with an extra addition of $2.50 for cheese, however for any sit-down restaurant in New York, this is actually standard and your entrance to the entertainment is provided for free. I do however, agree that $10 for some Cheerios on their breakfast menu is a little steep. Even if it is the best place you will ever eat Cheerios.
Intermittently, diners are offered a chance to win tickets to current Broadway shows with their Broadway Roulette. A diner is able to place a piece of paper with their name and number into a tombola, and one is selected to then spin the large wheel of show titles, placed centre of the restaurant. The winner is then invited to stay on the catwalk style centre stage bay as the dining staff perform a number with them.
Whilst you aren’t actively encouraged to take part in the performances, the singers thrive from the energy given by those singing back and moving in their seats. They play up to the camera, and are delighted to engage with you if you take an interest in their work. My server, Chris, had just left the cast of Paw Patrol and was heading out on a German cruise ship! If you’re after a quiet meal accompanied by conversation, Ellen’s is not the ideal place for you. As the Emcee said; “Some of y’all would have been better off walking two blocks to Applebee’s. It’s a lot cheaper.”