The Rchive no. 10—Faux Art Deco

R from Tick Tock Diner, Manhattan. Photograph 16 February 2013.

The neon is real but the Art Deco letter R is not. This is a detail of the word “DINER” from the Tick Tock Diner in Manhattan, kitty corner from Penn Station and Madison Square Garden. It is the New York City outpost of a famous diner in Clifton, New Jersey of the same name.

The original—which I have never seen—is an iconic American diner judging by the many photographs online (as well as its own Tick Tock Diner website). It opened in 1948 and presumably its  neon sign, with the clock and “Eat Heavy” slogan, dates from that year. It is a semi-Art Deco sign with the word “DINER” set in two-weight sans serif caps that evoke Moderne typefaces such as Omega (Stempel, 1926), Modernique (ATF, 1928), Britannic (Stephenson Blake), Peignot Bold (Deberny & Peignot, 1937) and Radiant (Ludlow, 1940), but that is distinct from all of them in its elongation. The remainder of the lettering is in a narrow grotesque which is indicative of the 1950s rather than the 1930s. The combination makes sense for a business that opened in the years just after World War II with the memory of the Art Deco era lingering but a new horizon beckoning.

Tick Tock Diner, Clifton, New Jersey. Photograph from the Retro Sign Blog, 2011.

In contrast, the Midtown Manhattan location opened in 1997. And although its décor  “evokes the spirit of the original outlet with plenty of chrome and comfy banquette seating” its sign is a feeble counterpart to the original. (Though, to the owners’ credit, they did not attempt to recreate the original Clifton sign.) “HOME COOKING” and “AIR CONDITIONED” are not even neon. “Tick Tock” is based on ITC Barcelona (ITC, 1981), a typeface by Ed Benguiat inspired by Victorian lettering, and “DINER” is in 1970s Retro Art Deco style.

The two distinctive features of the “DINER” lettering—the lowercase N and the horizontal strokes on E and R that cross the stem—are rarely found in typefaces issued between World War I and World II. In my search only Neon (Nebiolo, 1935) has the lowercase N and only Stellar (Ludlow, 1929), Bernhard Fashion (ATF, 1929) and Electra (Nacional, n.d.) have the overlapping horizontal stroke. None of these have letters as streamlined and heavy as in “DINER”. I think these letters are derived from 1970s/1980s lettering by Leslie Cabarga, Michael Doret, Daniel Pelavin, Tom Nikosey et al, but have not identified a specific example. There are no phototype or digital typefaces that match it exactly, though Five and Dime NF (Nick’s Fonts, 2002) is so close I suspect that Nick Curtis may have gotten the idea for his face from seeing the Tick Tock Diner in Manhattan!

Faux or not, the word “DINER” looks great. It’s too bad that the rest of the sign does not match it.

Tick Tock Diner, 481 Eighth Avenue, Manhattan. Photograph from Block Avenue Blog, 2011.