LIANE HANSEN, host:
The Mansion Restaurant in Manhattan is closing for renovations in a few weeks. It's an old-fashioned diner, a neighborhood mainstay just a few blocks from Gracie Mansion, the mayor's official residence. The Mansion has been in business for half a century.
NPR's Anne Hawke stopped in and sent us this audio postcard.
Mr. PHIL PHILLIPS(ph) (Owner, Mansion Restaurant): My name is Phil Phillips. I'm the owner of the Mansion Restaurant. My father opened this store in 1945.
ANNE HAWKE reporting:
Back then, this neighborhood, Yorkville, was a blue collar community of European immigrants, many of whom worked at a nearby brewery. The area has gone upscale since then, but the diner not so much.
Mr. PHILLIPS: Some of the equipment in this store dates back five decades. The table that the coffee urn is on hasn't been moved since 1956. I accompanied my father to buy this stove when I was eleven, 44 years ago.
HAWKE: That was another era, Phillips says, when a mom and pop shop owner could afford to live on the same block as his business. Phillips was born here on 86th Street, lives here, and spends every day at his corner restaurant. Waitress Dorothy Fishman(ph) stops us on the way into the kitchen.
Ms. DOROTHY FISHMAN: (Waitress, Mansion Restaurant): Best boss. Yes, he's wonderful.
Mr. PHILLIPS: Back here we have Chef Dimitri and Chef Nessa(ph). They're preparing the day's soups. Mr. Alfredo. This is Mr. Alfredo, the dishwasher. Mr. Victor.
HAWKE: Phillips is investing $750,000 on an overhaul, ripping out paneling and exposing brick walls. He would have renovated during summer, the slow season, but this is when he caters to his base, older people and neighbors without summer homes. They'll wander in for an affordable spinach pie or mini-cheeseburger. Phillips holds court with tourists and the occasional mayor, and regales them with stories, like the one about the customer who died of a heart attack in one of his booths. The Mansion called 911.
Mr. PHILLIPS: Here's this poor man that in my opinion was already gone. They're working on him feverishly, but my customers never lost a beat - more coleslaw, can I have more Sweet-N-Low, can I have the check? And one woman even stepped over the body on her way out the door as if nothing was there.
HAWKE: Things have settled down since then. Phillips, whose family is from Cyprus, has hired Greek and Italian architects for the renovation. But he makes sure each of them sees the sign outside.
Mr. PHILLIPS: It says Mansion. It doesn't say Acropolis. It doesn't say Parthenon. It doesn't say Coliseum. I don't want Greek columns, marble all over. We want something clean and crisp, and most important, welcoming.
HAWKE: And no stainless steel '50's diner look. Phillips wants a style that invites in people from all walks - a cab driver, a truck driver, a woman in a suit on her way home from work.
Anne Hawke, NPR News, New York.
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