The secret of Joe's Diner

We're sitting in Joe's Diner in Lee, Massachusetts for an early breakfast after a night at Tanglewood and I'm struck by the red stools at the counter. I take photographs of the back of the customers - mostly locals at this hour. A policeman comes in for a brown paper bag of food. " Put me down for one of everything - I'm probably guilty," says a customer. Suddenly my attention is drawn to a picture on the wall. It's as familiar to most Americans as apple pie. It is the Norman Rockwell painting The Runaway, which featured on the front cover of the Saturday Evening Post in September 1958. It is the image of a policeman with a small boy sitting on diner stools. Then it clicks. We are in the diner featured in  the image.

When my bacon and eggs arrive waitress Shelley tells us Joe Sorrentino, the original owner of the diner featured in the painting, is still around and comes in regularly with his pals. On the wall behind her is a photograph of the boy and the cop many years after Rockwell painted their image. The boy is an adult. I feel as if Joe's has never changed.

The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, in  is a wonderful introduction to his story and his significance to the US. Rockwell has been described as America's greatest middlebrow artist. But his idealised images of small-town America serve as a social history in a changing twentieth century. He illustrated over 300 Saturday Evening Post covers over the years with his iconic images.

Rockwell lived in Stockbridge where you can find the splendid Red Lion Inn and it's hotel ambassador Simon Treadwell Gato. Simon was a bit stand offish at first when I met him but soon he was lying on his back so I could tickle his tummy.

Simon, above, has been immortalised in his own portrait in the lobby. Just one of the aspects of the hotel which I loved. It has a feeling of faded grandeur. A waiter in a red waistcoat will server you iced coffee on the expansive porch and inside the dark and cosy Tavern the barman will happily pose for pictures next to the BBC beer pump. (Berkshire Brewing Company). 
BBC beer in the Red Lion, Stockbridge

Although the hotel appeals to older ladies who lunch it also has young people hanging out on the porch drinking lattés and children posing for pictures next to the lion statues (I want it for my blog, I overheard one ten-year-old say)

Simon Treadwell Gato: portrait of the hotel ambassador

We're here for Tanglewood and on warm evenings what better way to see a concert than from a picnic blanket on the lawn. Hundreds of others do the same and we enjoy the opera The Great Gatsby by John Harbison while drinking a glass or two of wine. Others were more organised with candles and what looked like a full dinner. We spend a pleasant evening as  birdsong and the gentle hiss of bug repellent being applied, compete with the singers. Back at Hampton Terrace B&B we take a late night dip in the pool (open all night) before bed. Another civilised day at Tanglewood.

Another post about eating: this time Scones in Montreal.

For more on things to do in the Berkshires :

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  1. ahhh I've totally been there!!! I love your blog but I don't normally comment but I met my husband working at a summer camp there (camp Becket) even though we both live in England. We ate breakfast in that diner, we flirted and listened to music one warm evening at Tanglewood. I think this was all 14 years ago. Thank you for the trip down memory lane. x

  2. Sian

    Great to hear your story. I'm not the only Brit to go there then. What a great diner and a great area. More on the Berkshires soon.

  3. I'm a Brit who loves the Berkshires so much that I moved here and re-modelled a 1960 motel down the street from the Red Lion. I also own a house in Lee and was there in the run up to the first Obama election campaign, when Good Morning America staged a re-enactment of that famous Rockwell picture at Joe's Diner. And you missed an opportunity. The original Joe is indeed alive and kicking and frequently around the diner, because he owns the entire block and some of the property behind. The large space upstairs contains about eight rooms packed with stuff that Joe has accumulated over the decades, various items of which have found their way to our house. If any of your readers are passing Joe's and see the door to the right is open, take the opportunity to check out his flea market. It's a vintage-crap-fest.

  4. Thanks for your comment- wish I'd known about your motel - what's the name? Also wish I'd known about Joe's rooms! I'd love to hear from anyone who explores them.


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