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Downtown Manhattan diners are a funny thing—to wit, so many close before dinner. Forget being open late or for 24 hours—a diner that closes at 5 removes itself from crucial aspects of the diner-going experience.
So if you're in Tribeca at night and looking for a no-frills place for dinner, where do you go? You go to Square Diner, which closes at 9, and this is why:
This place gushes charm the way Sunnydale's hellmouth gushed stake-fodder for Buffy. There's an unknowable calculus behind what makes a diner's atmosphere a given person's favorite diner, but Square's inches dangerously close to mine.
The booths, well cushioned and spaced out, are comfortable enough to make you feel taken care of but low cut so you can keep an eye on the goings-on around you. Should you prefer to eat at the steel-belted counter, lipstick-red spinning stools will do you right.
Regrettably the flattop is hidden away in the back, but this simply leaves more room for the condiments station and impromptu bar: a line of eight or so bottles along a high shelf that go into drinks served in martini glasses that eclipse most of a drinker's face.
A low-key crowd at night walks that fine line between dive diner and family-friendly. They make for good eavesdropping, if not amazing hijinks.
Right, and there are sandwiches. There's even a specialty sandwich section of the menu, where you'll find Teddy's Special Sandwich ($10, add $2.50 for a deluxe with fries). I don't know who Teddy is, but I'm grateful for his effort to bust the tuna salad monopoly on melts with this chicken salad and bacon melt with Cheddar, tomatoes, and onions on seven-grain bread.
The chicken salad, "made fresh daily," is indeed fresh and not too heavy on the mayo or celery filler. Big chunks of chicken taste clean and light, leaving crisp strips of bacon to dirty things up. As far as melt sandwich physics go, Teddy makes a solid if not inspired effort. The bread is dutifully toasted and the cheese is well melted, but tomatoes add nothing but watery heft and the raw crunch of onion goes straight up the nose. Order your sandwich without them for a better-proportioned bite.
There's also a Chicken Parm Hero ($9.25) starring massive pre-fried chicken cutlets and a ketchup-y tomato sauce. No more or less than the sum of its parts, squishy bread included, it's fine if you know what you're getting into but not something to go out of your way for.
Square's Egg Creams ($2.50) are satisfying—perhaps a touch too sweet, but beautifully frothed. If you arrive before 4 or after 7 p.m., give one a try.
But between those 180 minutes you should be hitting the diner's happy hour hard: beer, wine, and cocktails—well, all except the "martinis made with fresh fruit"—are $4 a pop.
So these are the reasons why you should go to Square. I'll see you at the counter.