Duckler: Hey, Concord, want a Red Arrow Diner? Here’s what I found out

  • The Red Arrow in Milford just before midnight Friday. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The Red Arrow on Lowell Street in downtown Manchester around 1 a.m. early Saturday morning. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The Red Arrow on Lowell Street in Manchester around 1 a.m. on Saturday morning. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The staff at the Red Arrow in Londonderry early Saturday morning. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • A small crowd gathers outside the Red Arrow Diner on Lowell Street in Manchester early Saturday morning. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Waitress Kathy Mangano of Derry serves up some late night food at the Red Arrow Diner in Londonderry. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Waitress Kathy Mangano serves up the coffee around midnight at the Red Arrow in Londonderry. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The specials board at the Red Arrow in Milford. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Tex Maizler and Katie Lenier enjoy a late night dinner at the Red Arrow in Milford. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 8/20/2016 11:17:50 PM

Josh Blaney was drunk. Really drunk.

His glassy eyes and slurred speech told me so, as did Blaney himself, sitting elbow-to- elbow at the Red Arrow Diner in Manchester at 1:15 a.m., Friday night.

Or, if you prefer, 1:15 a.m., early Saturday morning.

It happened at a place known for serving drunk people, sober people, important people, anonymous people, powerful people, blue-collar people, suit-and-tie people, all people, all the time.

The Red Arrow Diner, led by its flagship branch in Manchester and featuring two others in Milford and Londonderry, never closes, which, apparently, is a big deal around here.

How else to explain the excitement that surfaced after Nick Reid’s story ran in Thursday’s Monitor, the one about our very own Red Arrow Diner possibly opening on Loudon Road?

And how else to explain why this columnist schlepped to the three Red Arrow Diners Friday night, searching for flavor and answers and home-cooking and doors that never lock?

I went because Reid’s story was the most-read piece the Monitor published this month. I went because the story had 221 likes on Facebook, just from the Monitor’s post, and lots of people liked the shared post, too. I went because a powerful buzz surfaced, like the one Blaney had.

Blaney, affable and excited to meet the press, was desperate for a bacon bene, short for bacon benedict, meaning hollandaise sauce was somewhere in his future. If only he could grab the attention of one of three waitresses behind the counter.

It was busy. They were busy.

“Absolutely, this is the best place ever,” said Blaney, a 34-year-old drywall worker, when asked if Concord should open a Red Arrow. “Best place I’ve ever had breakfast in Manchester, and anywhere around. It’s a little slower during the week, and you get a little better service at 2 in the morning during the week, but it’s Friday night. It’s happening right now.”

The happenings in Milford and Londonderry were more subdued earlier that night. They’re not a party palace like their Manchester cousin. Few restaurants are.

The Milford edition sits in what locals call The Oval, near a bridge and gazebo. It’s narrow, modeled after a mobile home, with two booths, two tables for two and a long counter with stools that spin.

At 10 p.m., there were seven people, two at each four-person booth and three soloists at the counter. The couple in the corner featured a blond-haired woman with kind eyes, Kate Lenier, and her husband, Tex Marler, whose thick white goatee could house a bird or two.

He’s a retired engineer; she’s a physicist.

“We like to come here during snowstorms,” Lenier said. “Our favorite time.”

She ate American chop suey, while he had the chicken sausage florentine bene, followed by a mountainous piece of chocolate pie with whipped cream that Marler said was “more than I expected.”

They’ve been coming to the Milford branch since it opened eight years ago and said they love the down-to-earth food and feel, the diner flavor. Lenier gives the diner’s coffee mugs – cartoonish faces of mascots Dinah, who has eyelashes, and Moe, who doesn’t – to friends as wedding gifts.

“People are tired and want home cooking, so they’re much more willing to come here than go to McDonald’s,” Lenier said. “I like the diner setting, I like these tables.”

“A lot of people talking, a lot of people interacting,” Marler said. “It’s a broad spectrum of people and lives. Usually no one is uptight.”

Their waiter, a burly, bearded man wearing a baseball cap who declined to give his name, said this Red Arrow attracts customers at odd hours, although they close Sunday through Tuesday nights at 11.

“Thursday at 1 a.m., 2, 3, 4, oh yeah, people are here,” he said. “People hanging out in Nashua, from all over come.”

The guy at the counter with a white beard and glasses, 70-year-old Jim Comeau, comes in a lot, usually for liver and onions. This time the Vietnam veteran had the mac and cheese with home fries. He said Concord would do well to join the team.

“Absolutely, it’s good,” Comeau said. “Get it, get it. Sometimes I don’t feel like cooking late at night.”

The Londonderry Red Arrow was electric, brighter than Milford, busier, louder. It had a 1980s theme, with Aerosmith, Journey and Pat Benatar mixing with forks scraping on plates, and spoons clinking on coffee cups.

Right off Interstate 93, truckers come a lot in the early-morning hours. Friday between 11 and midnight saw teens, middle age and seniors, nearly filling all eight booths and 16 counter stools.

Waitress Kathy Mangano had dark hair, pulled back tight into a pony tail, and dark eyes. Her daughter was on duty, too, pregnant with Mangano’s fourth grandchild. She looked too young for that. She works third shift, 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., four nights a week.

Unlike the Milford version, this one never closes. “A lot of people come in, come in off the highway, travelers,” Mangano said. “They know we’re open, where as a lot of places aren’t, like McDonald’s. A lot of repeat clientele here. It’s fun, a great atmosphere.”

To prove it, Mangano called the seven staff members working over for a group photo. One of them was Dave Carter, who said his singing can be heard from the kitchen.

“People are going to get psyched having one in Concord,” Carter said. “Everything is fun around here, and we’re all family.”

I asked Mangano what she thought, figuring a Concord Red Arrow on The Heights, like the Londonderry Red Arrow, would be far from a downtown center, meaning drinkers couldn’t stumble there after the bars close. Also, Concord has tried and failed before in its attempt to jazz things up.

“I think they should do it,” Mangano said. “This is sort of a sleepy town, too, and the only lull is at 4 or 5 in the morning.”

Lulls don’t happen often at the Manchester one, especially in the hours after last call. The Red Arrow there, counter space only, is claustrophobic, a narrow path between the stools and wall that heighten a scene already chaotic from customers crowding in, under the influence.

It’s on Lowell Street, in the teeth of the city’s party action, a famed spot where presidential candidates and local celebrities stop by to eat and be noticed.

I got there a few minutes before 1 a.m. and saw what everyone had talked about at the other two Red Arrows. I heard a woman, standing in front of autographed photos of Adam Sandler and Sarah Silverman, talking on the phone, telling the person “I’m at the Red Arrow,” four times before finally saying, “Earth to Tim, we’re at the Red Arrow.”

I saw a thin guy with a buzz cut and squinting eyes stagger in before a waitress shooed him out the door, saying, “You’re not allowed to be here.”

“He comes in and begs our customers for money,” the waitress told me. “He’s a huge problem for us.”

I saw the good and the bad of late-night eating, drunk people who were silly, drunk people who were obnoxious and drunk people who were harmless, and in fact quite nice.

Josh Blaney was in the latter group. He had a tattoo on his left arm that read “Andrea, 7-24-09,” a tribute to his 7-year-old daughter.

He rode his bike to the restaurant after drinking with his girlfriend and roommate, both of whom had called it a night. The line behind us was inching closer to the door, closer to spilling outside to the street, where Photo Editor Geoff Forester was berated by a drunk woman, mad he’d taken her photo.

“It’s happening, a lot of stuff going on,” Blaney, still waiting to order, told me. “This is Manch-Vegas, baby. That’s all I have to say about that.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304, or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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