ROCHESTER, NY—Reported sightings of Rochester's legendary "phantom diner," a mysterious restaurant that purportedly appears only to those in the most inebriated state of their lives, are often met with skepticism and incredulity. But for Leo Kline, 24, who claims he visited the diner this past weekend, the apparitional eatery is all too real.
"I had all but given up hope that I would get to eat pancakes and sausage that night," said Kline, who was separated from his group of friends early Sunday morning after leaving the Steel Toe Bar's nickel-beer night to urinate in an alleyway. "Then all of a sudden, there it was in front of me, bathed in this unnatural neon light. I don't remember much after that, but when I woke up the next day in the back of [Rick] Loomis' pickup truck, there was syrup in my hair."
"That's when I knew the whole thing wasn't just a dream," Kline added.
These strange encounters with the enigmatic restaurant—described by hundreds of inebriated witnesses since 1990—generally occur between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday mornings, as well as on Mondays during three-day weekends.
The majority of hungover witnesses mention aimlessly wandering the streets and feeling insatiable hunger and extreme disorientation before catching a glimpse of the mysterious restaurant and being drawn irresistibly toward it.
The memory loss associated with eating at the phantasmic diner, however, has left a dearth of concrete descriptions. Most, including bicycle-shop manager Corey Richmond, 27, could not even recall the general area in which the eatery had appeared to them.
"I thought maybe it was on Lyle Avenue, but I've been to that part of town dozens of times before," Richmond said. "The neighborhood is barren and completely run-down. There's nothing over there except for boarded-up buildings, that shitty Greek joint, and check-cashing places."
Vague accounts of the diner's interior have offered little insight into the mystery. Some mention an ancient, spectral waitstaff and indescribable bathroom conditions, and a few recall being forcibly ejected by a furious, massive blur that told them in a deep voice to "stay the fuck out."
Even those who have allegedly visited the elusive restaurant disagree as to what state a person must be in to see the diner. Many say it appears after the consumption of 12 beers, while others insist 13 are required, which must be imbibed through a funnel. A smaller contingency adamantly contends that one must combine Jägermeister and white wine at a Valentine's Day mixer in order to summon the fantastical eatery.
All agree, however, that the restaurant uncannily appears after no fewer than nine incantations of "Dude, I am so fucking wasted."
Rochester's phantom diner is not the only case of a mysterious food establishment appearing exclusively to the exceedingly drunk. According to Dr. Thomas Paup, a leading expert on alcohol-contingent restaurant apparitions, there have been many similar phenomena across the country.
"The most famous example, of course, is the Normandy Avenue fish-taco truck in Los Angeles," Paup said. "But there have been many others, including a Middle Eastern restaurant in Denver and a churro stand in Austin, TX. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find an area with a centralized bar scene where these types of reports haven't surfaced."
"The factor that seems to tie all of these cases together is that each subject has been drunker than at any point in his or her entire life and in dire need of greasy, disgusting food," Paup continued.
Though many doubt the veracity of the confusing, fragmented stories that stem from so-called "crypto-eateries," those who say the phantom diner has appeared to them remain convinced of the partially remembered events that took place there.
"I'm pretty sure I left my cell phone there when I was throwing up in the bathroom, and when I went there the next day, it was gone," said 26-year-old temp worker Rebecca Porter. "How do you explain that?"