Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Bridge Diner

Bridge Diner 4

Some photos of the old, historic Bridge Diner under the Broadway Bridge in downtown Portland. Ok, it's not actually old or historic. It's not even a diner. It's a movie set, a very detailed and believable set for the film Untraceable, currently shooting here in town. (The Mercury has a bit about it here, and there's a mention at CafeUnknown and I think I've seen it somewhere else too.)

Bridge Diner 1

Passersby could be forgiven for wondering how long it was here without them noticing. The movie folks did a great job making the thing look old, and it's small enough that it's conceivable it could've been overlooked. It looks like something you might find here, a half-forgotten relic of the old industrial days when the area was a working port.

I already knew the story when I set out to find the thing, so I just sort of walked around admiring it for a while, taking a few pictures and smiling at the bored security guard in a nearby pickup. Then my stomach growled at me. It sure would be nice if there was a real diner here, or around here somewhere. The surrounding area is mostly residential these days, but there's nowhere to eat, at least not anywhere that I've noticed. So a restaurant of any kind would be welcome here, I'm sure.

Bridge Diner 5

One fun bit: The "Diner parking only" sign is part of the set, but it serves precisely the same purpose in the real world too, keeping people from hogging the parking spaces around the building. It's like, postmodern, or whatever.

And since it's not really blogging unless I find something to be all anal-retentive and pedantic about, a couple of quibbles. First, a sign on the back of the building (photo 4) advertises "hero" and "grinder" sandwiches. Nobody uses those words here. Here they're always sub sandwiches. Don't ask me to explain that; it's just how it is. Second, the prominent "AIR CONDITIONED" sign on the front might not gotten that kind of billing here, even back when AC was a novelty. The whole damn state is naturally air conditioned about nine months out of the year. What you do see more often on old buildings are signs advertising "Color TV". Also, the building is even smaller than a Waffle House, which is really saying something. That's entirely too small. But that's not unusual for movie sets. Maybe one of the stars is really short and insecure, or something.

Bridge Diner 1

The thing with diners is that what people really love is the idea of diners. Maybe it's the architecture, or the music on the jukebox. Maybe they're seen as relics of a "simpler" and more wholesome era. Maybe it's even the food for some people, but not everyone, I'm sure.. Case in point: Out in Hillsboro there's a place called the Blue Moon Diner. (inside photo here) It's located in a strip mall off TV Highway, across from a big Intel plant, and it's only been there maybe 10-15 years. But apart from that, it's the real deal, as far as I can tell. It's one of those airstream-style prefab aluminum diners from the Midwest, which are still in production, believe it or not. The owners bought one, had it shipped here, and set up shop. The food is exactly what you'd expect: Eggs, bacon, and waffles; burgers, fries, and shakes; the whole deal. I'm told (by people who should know) that the burgers are just like the burgers you'd have gotten way back when. Which is not the same thing as saying they're the best burgers you can find now in 2007. And in 2007, you don't always want a burger anyway, regardless of the setting. When we lived out in that part of town, we went to the Blue Moon now and then, but for every visit we probably made ten runs to the neighborhood Thai Orchid. But still, the building sure is pretty. Your cultural studies professor can call it "pastiche" all s/he likes, but it's hard to beat curvy shiny aluminum, since everything else for miles around is nothing but relentless beigeness. Some of the more adventurous buildings are beige with khaki accents. But it can be hard to tell from a distance.

If you're closer to downtown and looking for an "authentic" diner experience, you might try the Original Hotcake House, on SE Powell near Milwaukie Ave. Not quite a "diner" per se, but definitely a greasy spoon. The bacon's good, which is really all you need to know. Oh, and, it's open 24/7. Back when I lived nearby in the Brooklyn neighborhood, mumble-mumble years ago, I'd occasionally drop by there at 2AM for some greasy breakfast chow and coffee. I'm not as much of a night-owl-about-town as I once was, but I'm still awfully fond of the place.

Bridge Diner 3

But I digress. More than any concerns about regional or historical authenticity, or whether it's physically possible to stuff enough customers inside to pay the bills, what I really worry about is Oregon's movie curse. Nearly every movie made here has been jaw-droppingly godawful, although sometimes (rarely) they achieve so-bad-it's-good status. Think The Hunted, or Portland Exposé, or Body of Evidence (which I just saw over the weekend, but that's another story). I hope the latest production manages to avoid the curse, even if it's supposed to be yet another Northwest serial killer movie, like we really need another of those.

Anyway, I hope the movie doesn't suck, and if it does, I hope it sucks in a non-memorable way so we don't get buses full of tourists through here looking for the real Bridge Diner. If anyone asks about it, feel free to play oldtimer and make up stories for the wide-eyed tourists. Tell them Harry Truman ate here, or that Marilyn Monroe worked here for a month or two, just before she got her start in showbiz. Say it's haunted by the ghost of some mafia kingpin who got gunned down in the parking lot back during the pinball wars of the late 50's. Repeat a few off-color jokes and say you heard them from old Stumpy McGee, the legendary line cook at the Bridge who retired to Yuma just last year. Tell 'em the place hasn't been the same since, but you remember how it was in the old days...


Roxanne said...

I was totally in heaven when I saw what I thought was an undiscovered diner here in Portland! Why didn't I know about this! I am a diner junkie. I even made my husband turn the car around and go back to see if it was open! Man, they sure fooled me! I am stunned that this was built to star in a movie. Now I am fantasizing about buying it and turning it into a REAL diner. Anyone want to be a backer?

atul666 said...

As far as retro eating goes, what I'd really like here is a real live automat. That would be awesome.

Roxanne said...

Hey! I grew up eating at the automat! However when I was old enough to be conscious of my surroundings, I observed that Horn & Hardarts was only partially an automat. You had to go through a line and pick out what you wanted and only some of the items were in the automat part, like the desserts. Before I was born, I think it was all automat. It was a good restaurant too! On another note, I can't stand the thought of the Bridge Diner being ripped down. Isn't there anyone out there that wants to buy it and turn it into a real 3-dimensional place?