Lawlor / Oh shoot, the diner is closed
In the entrance foyer of the Athena Diner in the Southport area of town is a mechanical claw game. It’s a game where you try to maneuver a claw over stuffed animals and then it drops and starts to pull up a stuffed animal toy, but the grip of the claw is so weak, the stuffed animal slips back into the pile. In other words, there are nearly impossible odds of winning. I had played it many times with my young daughters over the years, and sometimes as the stuffed animal fell back into the pile, I let out an expletive and was out 50 cents. Once, when walking by the game, my 4-year-old daughter explained to my mother- in-law, “That’s called the Oh Shoot Game; daddy always says ‘Oh, shoot’ when he drops the stuffed animal.” My wife looked at me disapprovingly. But I was quite happy. I was happy my daughter heard “Oh, shoot.” That was close to what I said, but not quite. As a family we called those machines “Oh Shoot” from then on.
I was talking to my daughter about it after we recently found out about the Athena suddenly closing after being open on the Post Road since 1975. Many weekends, we would order our food, then I would take my daughters out to play Oh, Shoot along with a friend or a niece or nephew and a handful of quarters. Sometimes we would win a prize, and by the time we blew a few bucks, our meal was ready. I finally admitted to my now adult daughter, “You know, I didn’t really say ‘Oh, shoot. ” She replied, “ I know, dad. We picked up on that a decade or so back. No adult outside of a Disney sitcom has ever said ‘Oh, shoot.’ ”
I can still tell you what booth at the Athena my wife and I sat in when we crunched the numbers to see if we could afford to buy our first house in 1992. I can tell you that we sat in the far back corner booth the first time we took my newborn daughter out into the world for her first breakfast at a restaurant. The staff ooohed and ahhhed at her, and as the years passed, they marveled out loud about how she and her sister grew. I don’t know if we even did the same first meal out for our second child. You don’t remember those things for the second kid. I don’t even remember if we sent the second one to school. But I remember the booth of the first one.
A booth on the right side about halfway back is where I sat when a very good friend, part of a couple we were close friends with, told me they were getting a divorce , after asking me to meet him at the diner for a coffee.
We sat over on the left side back by the bathrooms the morning we encouraged my 5-year-old nephew to order for himself after a sleepover at our house. The waitress asked him what type of eggs he wanted, she added, “Any style,” and he said, “Easter eggs.”
I have had business meetings, family brunches, negotiated a new job, and eaten countless breakfasts at the Athena Diner. Sometimes when the family was out of town, I would sit at the counter, order dinner and read the newspaper. It was nice. There are other restaurants in the area, like the S&S Dugout and The Driftwood, that serve a great breakfast or lunch on the weekends, but we will really miss the Athena.
The diner was famous. Before GPS, we gave directions to our house based on the diner. Once our friend Carl sent a post card from France, with the wrong address and ZIP code, but he had included in the address “street behind the Athena Diner” and it somehow got to our house.
There are a lot of rumors circulating as to why the diner closed — back taxes, it was sold, family issues. I don’t know. All I know is that when I read the sign on the door that said it closed, I said to myself, “Oh, shoot.”
Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His column appears every other Friday. He can be reached by email at Tlawlor@