Yes, there was another well-known diner on the Turnpike

Yes, there was another well-known diner on the Turnpike


A few columns ago I wrote about the Olympia Diner and how the Newington icon played a part in my generation’s growing-up years. From pancakes and French toast breakfasts after Sunday church services with our parents, to burgers, fries and Cokes after cruising the Turnpike with our friends, and, inevitably, 25 years down the road following a high school reunion, more reminiscing over drinks — “Hey, when did the Olympia start serving cocktails!?”

There was and still is, another diner on the south side of the Turnpike, a stretch or two north, that wasn’t a big part of our social life back in the late ’50s and early ’60s, if at all.

We were more obsessed with Uncle Ezra’s, what with those foot-long hot dogs on the buttery grilled roll. Who can forget Tom and Pat’s original grinder shop across the road, made the best tuna grinders topped with mozzarella cheese, that came out of the pizza ovens with the fat rolls baked to a crispiness and the cheese oozing.

The first McDonald’s opened on the Turnpike just a bit up the road at the intersection of East Robbins Avenue. The golden arches drew boys from neighboring towns and before a million burgers with special sauce could be sold, many a gal and guy hooked up there. A few couples wound up going steady and our friend Beverly met her husband in the parking lot. Celebrated their 50th.

What we didn’t know at that time when stuffing our faces and cruising the Turnpike, a few guys even riding horses in the median, was that the explosive 1956 steamy novel we had secretly read passages from when we were in junior high, was linked to our very own Berlin Turnpike! And that the Makris Diner, the very one located on our very own Berlin Turnpike — granted, over the line in Wethersfield — played a role in the novel “Peyton Place.”

According to “Inside Peyton Place,” the 1981 bio by Emily Toth, author Grace Metalious was sued by Thomas Makris, a teacher her husband had worked with in New Hampshire, who claimed the character of “Tomos Makris,” Peyton Place headmaster, was patterned after him. Metalious, in an interview in Cosmopolitan, claimed that she chose the name Makris because of the Makris Diner on U.S. Route 5 outside of Hartford. The author would travel past the diner on her frequent drives from her home in New Hampshire to her publisher’s in New York City.

Ah, the days before the interstate took traffic away from our beloved Berlin Turnpike. I wrote about the Makris and its link to the sex-laden novel that was the talk of 1956 for the Record-Journal in its Sunday edition on April 5, 1992. It was featured along with the Olympia Diner story.

Like the Olympia, the 66-by-16-foot Makris, is an O’Mahoney. Built in 1951, and back in 1992 when I wrote about it, the diner had stood vacant for years, a “For Sale” sign propped forlornly in the window, weeds sprouting out of the cracked asphalt parking lot. In October of that year, a couple from Manchester rented the diner with an option to buy. To comply with zoning regulations, the couple kept the name Makris Diner so that the original sign could remain on the pillars towering above the diner.

Last summer at a yard sale while in Maine, I picked up a book club edition of “Peyton Place,” copyright 1956. My copy of “Peyton Place” at home in Southington has the name of the headmaster as “Michael Rossi,” the name changed in later editions by Metalious on the advice of her attorney. The movie and television versions followed suit.

What’s the headmaster’s name in your copy of “Peyton Place”?

In my yard sale book, the first line on Page 97 of Chapter 22 reads: “A few days later, Tomas Makris stepped off the train in front of the Peyton Place railroad station.”

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