Here are your favorite memories of the Melrose Diner
From Al Gore sightings and mob run-ins to going with the Bishop Neumann High School crowd after a dance, these are some of your favorite memories at the diner that once stood on West Passyunk Avenue.
If you heard the famous jingle today, it would go a little something like this: “Everybody who knew, went to the Melrose.”
After 88 years in business across two, slightly different locations, South Philly’s beloved Melrose Diner was demolished to make way for a six-story apartment building with — yes — a diner on the ground floor.
The Melrose Diner was founded in 1935 by Dick Kubach, who passed it along to his son Richard, who sold it to the current owner Michael Petrogiannis, a local diner magnate who filed a demolition permit for the iconic space in 2022. It held down its current location at the nexus of 15th Street, West Passyunk, and Snyder Avenues since 1956, save for a brief six weeks in 2019 when it closed following a kitchen fire, and the bulk of the past year, after a second fire.
Melrose Diner has been a lot of things for a lot of people, and often all of those things at once. It was a hangout for students from the surrounding Catholic schools. It was the last stop for clubbers looking for home fries and a person to kiss. It was a place where you could see a former vice president, police officers, and your neighbor all in one sitting.
So, we asked our readers: What is your favorite Melrose Diner memory?
Here are seven responses, lightly edited for length and clarity.
Kevin Vaughan, 68, Center City
“It was Friday night, Halloween, 1980, and I was having dinner with a friend in one of the half booths, talking politics as someone leans in and asks if we mind if the three of them take the other half of the booth. I look up to answer and find myself face-to-face with [entertainer, Rat Pack-er, and talk show host] Joey Bishop.
‘Of course, please join us,’ I said. He and his two companions sat down. Sometime later, Joey Bishop leaned over and asked if we were voting next week. Yes, we said, for Jimmy Carter. He said, ‘I’m sticking with Jimmy too, but I think Sammy [Davis Jr.], Dean [Martin], and Frank [Sinatra] are going with Ron.’ We know how that turned out.
Later in the ‘80s, I was having a late-night snack with former Daily News columnist Steve Marquez. We were there very late, and the diner was almost empty. A car pulled into the parking lot. Two men got out and entered the diner. One went left, the other went right and walked the length of the diner before going into both the men’s and ladies’ room. Then, one used the diner’s phone to place a call. Shortly, another car pulled up, and two men came in and joined the two men who had arrived earlier.
About 30 seconds later, Steve said it was time to leave. I said OK, and as we paid our check, he turned to me and said one name — Little Nicky Scarfo.”
Go-to order: The western omelette, hot apple pie with vanilla sauce, and butter cookies to go
John J. Callahan, 61, Drexel Hill
“My dad was the fire chief for the Gulf Oil Refinery in South Philly, and the Melrose Diner would do boxed lunches for the refinery workers. My dad would come home with a piece of cheesecake. My five siblings and I would beg my dad for the cheesecake. My older sister, Janet, would cry. She would get it every time.
My father died in March 2001. Every year since I got my sister a cheesecake from the diner until 2020, when she moved to Florida. When I went to visit in 2021, I came to Florida with a Melrose cheesecake in my hand. It seems silly, but for 55 years at least, the Melrose has been a big part of my life.”
Go-to order: Cheesecake
Rich DiGiovanni, 70, Girard Estates
“I was there when Al Gore walked in on the Sunday prior to the 2000 presidential elections. I was eating with my dad and my dad never turned around to acknowledge him, since he wanted more coffee with his breakfast. My dad was 80 at the time and hated any politician but loved Melrose breakfasts. Mr. Gore’s entourage — including then-Mayor John Street — also blocked my car on Passyunk Avenue when we left, which my father also did not like!
The meal was good, as always.”
Go-to order: Waffles and bacon for breakfast
Holly Wexler, 39, Abington
“We lived around the corner from Melrose on South Hicks Street from about 2014 to 2020. After we had our second son, Miles, in 2018, going anywhere felt impossible on the days I was home alone with him and my then-3-year-old, Harrison. Melrose was the only place I could get us to, and thank goodness for it.
I made it a weekly tradition to go there every Wednesday or Thursday morning: my newborn sleeping in his stroller in the aisle, Harrison and I in the booth with Mickey Mouse pancakes for him and an omelette for me. The waitresses could see on my face that I was frazzled and they were so nice. They kept him entertained with crayons and coloring sheets and asked him how he liked being a big brother so I could drink my coffee in peace.
I’ll never forget everyone’s generous spirit. That diner becoming a little refuge for us during those days!”
Go-to order: Grilled cheese with tomato on rye
Amber Whitton, 28, Morrinhos, Brazil
“I used to live around the corner from the diner on 15th and Jackson Streets. It was March 2022 and my friend Lindsay’s birthday had just passed, so we got breakfast at Melrose to celebrate. I gave her a card that said something to the effect of, ‘You have one more present, but you’re not going to get to meet him until October.’
Yes, that’s how I told my best friend I was pregnant.
She started crying, and we jumped up and hugged. Everyone else just went about their mornings, and we went back to drinking our coffees.
Lindsay and I used to joke that once he was old enough, we would bring my son Henry here. He’s now 10 months old, so we didn’t quite make it. Man, Melrose was a special place.”
Go-to order: Two eggs, home fries, toast, coffee, and a slice of pie
Mary Beth Malloy, 50, Roxborough
“My husband, Chuck, and I went every year since we started dating in 1989. We would drive down the week before Christmas and look at the lights on South 13th Street, then stop for hot cocoa and dessert at Melrose’s counter — I’d always get a chocolate cake or strawberry shortcake, and my husband got apple pie.
Chuck’s dad died right before we started dating in 1989, so a lot of his traditions have stood with us. When my daughter Madelyn was born in 2002, we started going as a family, and kept it up once my son Daniel was born. They liked to copy their dad with the apple pie. We even got hot cocoa and cookies to go during COVID, that’s how committed we were.
Those nights at the diner are some of our fondest memories as a family.”
Go-to order: Hot chocolate and a mix of desserts. Always the apple pie with vanilla sauce and butter cookies, though.
Lenore Smith, 69, Egg Harbor Township, N.J.
“Standing date night with my boyfriend — now husband — Bob back when we were 15 years old. We started dating the summer after eighth grade in 1969. He went to SS John Neumann for high school and played football, basketball. I went to Saint Maria Goretti and was a cheerleader [for Neumann]/. The diner was a popular destination after the Saturday night Neumann dances.
Anyway, we would go to Stadium movies and watch whatever the big thing was at the time (I’d fall asleep) and then go to Melrose after. It was funny — I lived on 29th Street and Snyder Avenue, and he lived at 29th Street and Tasker, so he walked to my place, and then we’d basically go in a loop. What a gentleman.
We got married in 1976 and moved to Upper Darby, like a lot of other South Philly couples. But every time we had an occasion in the city, we’d always make room for Melrose. Our kids used to make fun of us for it.”
Go-to order: CB1 — the chopped sirloin steak — for my husband. MP1, which was a soft chicken cutlet with the most delicious gravy, mashed potatoes, and creamed broccoli, for me. (“I’m still trying to make that damn gravy.”)