It has been more than a decade since I last ventured into the tiny red caboose which has been home to Millie’s diner for basically as long as I’ve been alive. Yet, like so many others I feel the need to bid farewell.
For nearly three and half decades, Millie’s has been a fixture in Norwich. I was never one of the regulars who frequented the place for breakfast or dinner, but I’ll admit to having stumbled in more than a time or too after a night out on the town.
For some reason, the regular laws of business didn’t seem to apply to the establishment, perched at the corner of Hubbard and East Main. Anywhere else in the world, the place’s diminutive size would have been a detractor. But not at Millie’s. There, the hole-in-the-wall feel and the signature blend of artery-clogging grease and attitude served with your meal, was just part of the overall charm.
Most business owners subscribe to the philosophy that the customer is always right, but not Millie. In her establishment, it was her way or the highway. As anyone who ever dared use foul language within those grease-covered walls can surely attest.
At no time was this policy put to the test more than on the Friday and Saturday night’s when Millie’s catered to the late night crowd. After the bars closed, Millie’s was the place to go and it was always jammed pack. (If you never experienced one of those early morning breakfast runs, just think of the way sardines are packed in a can and you’ll get the idea.)
Now, you’d think that many intoxicated patrons in such a confined space would spell trouble. But, again, not at Millie’s. You knew that if you weren’t on your best behavior, you could kiss any chance of getting served good-bye. In fact, I’ve often wondered if Millie herself might have been the inspiration for Seinfeld’s famed Soup Nazi episode.
Going out in Norwich wasn’t the same after Millie discontinued those late night hours. Not that I blame her. While I’m sure all those inebriated customers provided good entertainment value over the years, it had to get old after a few decades.
When the For sale Sign first went up, my colleagues and I speculated about what would happen to the old place. I’m glad for her, and for Norwich, that she was able to find someone willing to make a go of it.
While I certainly wish the new owner the best, I have to say that when Millie’s closed its doors for the last time yesterday, hearts broke all over the county – and beyond. It truly was the end of an era.
Come next Tuesday, the place will be known as the Caboose Diner. But for me, and plenty of others, it will only ever be Millie’s.
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