On a deserted stretch of Fourth Avenue South, the neon signage for Andy's Diner rises above the surrounding buildings, a derelict beacon never more than partially lit. Andy's is made up of seven old-fashioned train cars, several disused and dark yet with tables still laid, all linked together in a warren-like way with narrow corridors and strange dim corners, and a "CLUB CAR FOR COCKTAILS" at its heart.
It's in the peripatetic nature of trains that their souls would be lost, that even when moored they would be unstill. At Andy's, you feel like the next time you come, it might just have vanished and no one would've ever heard of it. There's that, and then lodged somewhere in my reptilian brain is this half-remembered, overheard, purported fact: Andy's Diner is haunted.
In the vestibule, a sign hand-lettered in ancient-looking cursive augurs the return of the mysteriously missing lamb shank dinner. Then a whiteboard promising specials says only "BOO." The club car is empty except for two gentlemen sitting at the bar—I never see their faces—to whom the bartender is remarking, "It's scary!" It evolves that she's talking about how dead it's been, suddenly no customers for days. One of them leaves; the conversation loops around, and, soon enough, she's saying again, "Oh, it's got to pick up in here, it's just scary." The reply is markedly slurry; the patron is a shade, approaching oblivion. Soon he, too, will disappear.
In the meantime, distant clanks and faint echoes of laughter come from the direction of FDR's personal train car, at the southernmost reaches of Andy's. (These disembodied spirits will prove to be a few all-too-ordinary humans who later emerge discussing the World Series.) I introduce myself to the bartender, Barbara, marvel at her preternatural niceness, and order and eat an implausibly good club sandwich.
By 8:30 p.m., we are alone. "I understand this place is haunted," I say to Barbara. As if on cue, a petite waitress materializes, nodding energetically. The ghosts, she says in a whiskey voice, hurl silverware to the floor, rattle doorknobs, and so forth.
"If they were mean ghosts, they'd bother me, but they're not. They're just little pranksters," she says.
Yet it emerges that the busboy glimpsed a figure limping down the hall into the cold storage—and found no one there. And Barbara herself once witnessed a shadow cast by nothing go around a corner—"WHOOSH! My stomach took a dive and got all hot." She takes me to the spot, where a bare bulb sort of illuminates an intersection in Andy's labyrinth. "Like this—WHOOSH!" she says. I get a chill.
On the way out, not a soul is to be seen. Then, suddenly, there's the waitress. "The door's unlocked," she says. "I didn't lock you in—I won't make you spend the night. Especially with ghosts."
Andy's Diner (2963 Fourth Ave S, 624-4097) hosts a Halloween party on the evening of Saturday, October 29.