Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Late Night at The Tom Cat Diner, Wildwood, NJ

There used to be an all-night diner on Rio Grand Avenue that went by the curious name, Tom Cat. This burger joint didn't even open until 11 at night, and closed at 8 am, if I remember right. My kinda place. Not sure if it's still open...I hear it is...I sure hope it is, because it was a swingin' spot.

The original opened in 1946. Called "Tomcat Drive-In Luncheonette" it sat at 443 W. Rio Grande Avenue, Wildwood, N.J. The original building burned and was rebuilt larger in the '50s. That's when it really started to swing. From what I hear, it was THE hip place to be if you were a teenager back in the day.

My pals and I didn't discover the joint until the early 1990s. By then the outside didn't look so hot; an 80s renovation with a purple roof made it look sorta goofy, and it was next door to Wildwood's only strip club, C.R. Phanies (a place that looked so sleazy even I would go in, and that's saying a lot). Although the building itself was kind of dull, inviting neon blazed from within. Once inside, you were fully transported back to the essence of a 1950's malt shop, complete with vintage style booths, old fashioned milkshake machines and the Doo Wop tunes that made the place rock 'n' roll.

Back in the early '90s my friends and I worked as actors at Elaine's Dinner Theater in Cape May. It was a hell of haul driving down from Cardiff (just outside of Atlantic City in Egg Harbor Township) two or three nights a week, but it was worth it. We did murder mystery musicals, and had more fun in one night than most people have in a month. We got paid every Friday, and Friday night after the show we'd head to one of the only places open at two o'clock in the morning...The Tom Cat in Wildwood Crest.

Of course I don't remember every detail of every night we went there. But I do remember a few fun bits...for one, I had (and still have) a 1953 Chevy Belair that I was fixing up at the time. I painted it seafoam green and white, and got it running good enough to handle the 32-mile drive down to Cape May, so on a couple of occasions it was great to pull up to that 50's diner driving that kool, 50's car. I also, on at least one occasion, got to drive this very swingin' chick (one of the stars of the theater) over to the Tom Cat in that car after the show. I had the hots for her something awful...but was a good kat and never made a play for her since I had a main squeeze at the time. Looking back...I should have made a move!

Burgers, fries, chocolate milkshakes, onion rings, chicken fingers...the usual stuff most nights, breakfast on others. I remember they had good waffles. But the burgers were boss. I miss that joint. Maybe I'll take a special trip just to get one of those late night burgers again.

-Christopher Pinto, author of Murder Behind the Closet Door, the Wildwood Paranormal Murder Mystery.


  1. We used to meet at the "Kat" and head over the bridge and race.... I had a 40 ford sedan with a 48 merc mill, 3 deuces, isky cam, milled heads with a hot ignition. It was quick.Fun to beat the guys from Cape May...

  2. Man, that sounds like one hell of a time. I wonder where that rod is today.