Photo by Christina Santucci
By Joe Anuta

The Palace Diner, one of the last bastions of greasy-spoon fare in Queensboro Hill, will be closing Dec. 30 after nearly four decades of serving the community.

The Main Street institution, located off the Long Island Expressway, will soon become an upscale Chinese restaurant and will leave longtime patrons, politicians and civic associations without a hangout.

“It is a catastrophe for the community,” said Myra Baird Herce, past president of the Flushing Chamber of Commerce and a well-known leader in the community. “I never ever saw such a reaction from people.”

The diner at 60-15 Main St. served as an accessible, after-church brunch spot and ladies’ night out for the ageing population of Queensboro Hill, who stopped driving years ago, according to Baird Herce.

It also served as a meeting place for political clubs, she said, and undoubtedly was a meeting place for countless, more surreptitious political discussions.

Don Capalbi, president of the Queensboro Hill Civic Association, held his monthly meetings there and was devastated by the imminent closure of the diner.

“It’s the last of the Mohicans. The last one left,” he said. “Where do you go for breakfast now when you want bacon and eggs?”

Capalbi, too, lamented the diner’s key place in Queens politics. Earlier in the month the Democratic Club of Flushing met in the expansive diner’s back room.

But while the diner marks a milestone in the changing of Flushing from one generation to the next — it took the place of a supermarket 35 years ago — Baird Herce said that remembering the past fondly is not the same as clinging to it.

“It’s a sign of the times and communities evolve,” she said. “I try and tell people you can’t hang on to a community.”

The owner, George Mantzikos, sounding despondent on the phone, did not want to comment on the closing.

Baird Herce said she did not blame Mantzikos for shutting the restaurant. The diner had an unusually important role in civic life in the community, but it is ultimately a business decision, she conceded.

But she said that some of the wait staff were surprised to learn their longtime place of employment would suddenly be closed.

“They are absolutely knocked on their pins,” Baird Herce said.

She overheard one of the waitresses say she had worked at the storied eatery for 22 years.

In addition to serving the standard diner fare of omelettes, burgers and French toast, the Palace Diner also had its own Greek twist, serving moussaka and baklava. Residents extolled the fare and spoke highly of Mantzikos, while online reviews pegged the food at average.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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