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Is Monk's Cafe On Seinfeld A Real Restaurant?

"Seinfeld" ran from 1989 to 1998 and incorporated its New York CIty setting so thoroughly into the misadventures of Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld), George (Jason Alexander), Kramer (Michael Richards), and Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) that the city — with its signature locations and unforgettable inhabitants — could almost be regarded as a fifth main character on the show. During its nine-season run on NBC, "Seinfeld" visited iconic New York spots like Central Park, Madison Square Garden, H&H Bagels, and Yankee Stadium. 

One common setting for informal meetings between the main players on "Seinfeld" was a diner known on the show as Monk's Cafe. The core four characters could often be found at Monk's, munching on standard diner fare like breakfast plates, sandwiches, and the iconic big salad. The cafe, which they often referred to simply as "the coffee shop," was the setting for such memorable scenes as George's pseudo-heart attack in Season 1 and the retelling of his heroic Marine Biologist moment in Season 5 (via YouTube). 

But does Monk's Cafe exist in the real world, or was it simply born in the minds of Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, and the creative staff behind the long-running hit comedy?

the exterior shots of Monk's are of an upper west side Greek diner called Tom's Restaurant

While the interior scenes at Monk's Cafe were shot on sound stages in Los Angeles, the exterior views, including the familiar blue and white marquee, are of a real diner called Tom's Restaurant. Tom's is located at the corner of West Broadway and 112th St. in Manhattan's Morningside Heights neighborhood, near Columbia University. (via Drivin' & Vibin'). The restaurant's sign, which is shot on the show to read only "Restaurant" — cutting off the "Tom's" on the Broadway side — wraps around the corner of the building, as shown on "Seinfeld." However, the arrangement of the doors and windows differs slightly from how they appear on television. 

While no "big salad" is on the menu, Tom's serves standard diner fare like sandwiches, burgers, chicken wings, omelets, and pancakes. Tom's Tripadvisor page includes a promise that they always "make it nice." In fact, that is a directive often shouted by servers to the kitchen staff when placing orders.

Tom's is named for founder Tom Glikas, who immigrated to New York from Greece and established the diner in the 1940s. Glikas later sold the restaurant to the father of current owner Mike Zoulis and his partners, who kept the original name (via The Arizona Daily Star). The diner is featured as a stop on the "Seinfeld reality tour" hosted by Kenny Kramer, the real-life inspiration behind Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards).

Seinfeld is not the only well-known pop culture homage to Tom's Restaurant

Owner Mike Zoulis told the Arizona Daily Star, "A location scout came up and saw me and asked if they could use the exterior ... I can't complain. It worked out for us. We get people from China, Australia, Africa, Europe, everywhere. They buy mugs, T-shirts, postcards. And it's exciting to see the place on the show." 

While "Seinfeld" has undoubtedly given a giant boost to the otherwise unremarkable yet popular dining spot, it is not the only way Tom's has been memorialized in popular culture.

Suzanne Vega once lived in the neighborhood and wrote the song "Tom's Diner" in tribute. In a video interview with The Interzone, Vega said, "Back when I was a receptionist, I used to eat breakfast there before I took the subway down to work, so that's where the idea for the song came." The tribute to the New York diner was originally envisioned by Vega as a piano-led tune that would sound "like a background for a French movie," but she eventually performed the song acapella. A later remix of the song by British artist DNA reached as high as number two on the UK charts (via officialcharts.com).

Two American political legends were regulars at Tom's

Tom's Restaurant actually sits beneath Columbia University's Armstrong Hall, home to NASA's Goddard Space Center (via WIkiCU), and has long been a popular spot with students. Columbia alumnus Meghan McCain told All Day Today that her father, Senator John McCain, was particularly fond of Tom's. "That was my dad's favorite thing about Columbia — that it was by Tom's Restaurant. He used to tell everyone, 'Meghan and I ate at the "Seinfeld" restaurant!'" 

Barack Obama and his Columbia roommate, Phil Boerner, also frequented Tom's in their undergraduate days there in the 1980s. Boerner told The New York Times, "We would just go there for the breakfast special, two eggs over easy and toast. It was like $1.99, and we lived on a lot of bagels."

Fans of "Seinfeld" looking for a true Monk's Cafe experience beyond getting a photo in front of the iconic sign are sometimes let down by their visits to Tom's. On the r/Seinfeld subreddit, u/Bartenderofthemind asked if any fans had eaten there, writing, "I went to Tom's Restaurant in NYC and was disappointed to see that it was not the same inside. Also, there are no Seinfeld-related dishes (such as the big salad)." u/2slowam answered, "I have. Worst 'turkey' sandwich of my life. Don't eat there." 

Disappointing sandwiches aside, Tom's remains a popular destination for visiting fans more than 30 years since Jerry and friends first sat down there for a tuna on rye.