We Went to America's First 'Fancy Denny's'

Rachel Tepper Paley

This is a Denny’s. All photos credit: Rachel Tepper

It was still dark when queues began forming in front of New York City’s first Denny’s location, which opened for business bright and early Friday morning at 5 a.m. “There were lines at 3 a.m., and I’ve heard it’s been busy since it opened!” an astounded bartender, Kenyanna Scott, told us.

A large group stood in the nearby vestibule waiting to be seated.

"It’s so crowded,” said one would-be patron.

"Dude, it’s Denny’s," replied his companion knowingly.

But it’s not a Denny’s like any you’ve seen before. Gone are the retro diner-style booths and formica tables. At this Denny’s you’ll find wooden two-tops, faux-leather burgundy banquettes, industrial chic metal chairs, and a stamped tin ceiling. A giant black-and-white photograph of the Brooklyn Bridge hangs on one wall.

This is a Denny’s with craft cocktails, people, and the first of its kind in the world.

"It’s definitely a classier Denny’s than any I’ve ever seen," remarked New Yorker Suzanne Becton. Becton, a native of the Denny’s-rich metropolis of San Francisco, had heard about the opening on Thursday night, and decided to stop in.

Why? “I missed the hash browns! They’re crispy and delicious,” she cried. In a flurry of celebration, she and husband Jack paired the taters with a bottle of Dom Perignon—part of the $300 “Grand Cru Slam” breakfast, which comes with pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, and (naturally) some crisp hash browns. A bartender confirmed to us that they were the first guests to order the pricey combo.

"I’ll never forget this experience," Jack said as a gaggle of reporters snapped his photo. "This is hilarious."

Susanne and Jack Becton enjoy their $300 Grand Cru Slam.

Christina Gonzales and Jose Duenez, a Houston, Texas couple in town for the week, had already taken in Coney Island, the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, and even a “Today Show” performance by singer Ariana Grande when they chanced on the New York-ified Denny’s and decided to pop in.

"I was like, ‘wow!’" said Duenez, adding that the meal has enhanced their New York experience. Although the actual food was seemingly identical to that served at other Denny’s locations—this writer is mighty familiar with Denny’s, and this was the same-old, same-old—Gonzales was impressed by the atmosphere.

"It’s different, but in a good way," she said.

Amy Tiscornia, a Brooklyn resident visiting with her New Jerseybased mother Regina and her young niece, Fiona, was similarly impressed by the vibe. “They totally urban-ed it up,” she said.

There would be no Grand Cru slam for her, though. ”I don’t eat meat or dairy, so this is my worst nightmare,” Tiscornia said with a laugh. Fiona, though, breezily ordered the yogurt-based Groovy Mango Smoothie. Her niece was the impetus for their visit, Tiscornia explained.

Was she a Denny’s fan? we asked. 

"She just knows she’s in New York City," Tiscornia replied.