KEENE VALLEY — Greg Holbrook strolled into the diner around 7:30 a.m. and sat down on a round swivel stool, resting his elbows on the counter. He didn’t order anything. Waitress Rose Winchell knew exactly what he wanted: two eggs, over easy, on two slices of whole wheat toast — plain and simple.
Holbrook has been ordering a similar breakfast at the Noon Mark Diner “just about everyday” for the past 10 years.
“It started out as a matter of convenience,” he said, “and it’s gotten to be a habit I just don’t want to break.”
Winchell hovered around the counter, topping coffees off to the brim and greeting a steady flow of morning customers, mostly regulars.
“It’s nice when you know who people are and what they want to eat,” Winchell said. “It just makes life a little easier.”
The Noon Mark Diner — named for one of the most prominent peaks to the south of Keene Valley, still topped with snow — has long celebrated providing a nice warm meal, serving up a “mountain of home cooking,” as the sign says, every day from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. It sits on the southern edge of Keene Valley on state Route 73, a perfect spot where hikers, bikers, climbers and fishers stop and mix in with the local crowd. The diner is also the area’s stop on the Adirondack Trailways bus line.
Along with their warm comfort, food, fresh-baked bread, pastries and donuts, the Noon Mark is most known for the flaky crusts and gooey fillings of its many pies.
“It’s always been a staple here,” Winchell said. “Ever since we opened we’ve been a pie shop. The recipes were handed down through the generations of my family.”
Winchell is the niece of owner Lola Porter, and has been working at the Noon Mark since 1987, a year after it opened. It’s a family-run restaurant through and through, according to Winchell, who said there are 10 family members — “granddaughters, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, cousins and uncles” — all working different positions at the diner.
“We try to stay out of each other’s hair, but it can be a little tough sometimes,” Winchell said. “We sort of have an unwritten agreement that when we walk through the doors in the morning, we’re just coworkers. When we leave, we’re family again.”
Lola along with her husband Al and two sisters Joyce and Vi, opened the Noon Mark in 1986. But things didn’t really take off until they moved to the current location after buying and renovating a private home that hadn’t been lived in for years.
“The place was a real mess when we bought it,” said Al Porter, who oversees the marketing and advertising of Noon Mark and acts as the handyman. “We gutted everything. Tore it all out. It takes a lot to turn a house into a diner.”
With only a month to leave their old location and move the entire operation, they were in a scramble to get everything done. According to Lola, “the first day, we served meals on a counter held up by two saw horses, and people sat on a bunch of stools we had to borrow.”
Ever since that first day of chaos, Lola and her crew of close family have expanded the menu, as well as the building, adding on a new porch, a separate dining area and sectioning off the top floor into three apartments.
This year the new addition is an outdoor barbecue, offering hamburgers, kielbasa and bratwurst. Lola also said that the Noon Mark also now offers mail order pies, a part of the buisness that has grown over the last several years.
“My aunt built this place on a dream,” Winchell said. “She just went with it … adding new things every year, and it works.”
A diner with a history
The building that now pulses with the Adirondack feel of the Noon Mark Diner, wasn’t always where it stands today. It was once across the street — part of the Tahawus Boarding House, an enormous hotel that was fairly typical in Keene Valley during the late 1800s. According to “Two Adirondack Hamlets in History: Keene and Keene Valley,” edited by Richard Plunz, the structure was once the front building of the original Tahawus House. It was moved in 1893 when owner George Egglefield remodeled and expanded the grand hotel.
According to a family legend depicted in Plunz’s book, during the first day of the moving process the building en route sat squarely in the center of what is now state Route 73; that night Egglefield’s grandson was born in the house.
“The history of this place is just so fascinating,” said Al, who has, over the years, become an unofficial historian of the Noon Mark Diner. “The more I delved in, the more amazed I was.”
Just down the road in Saint Huberts, the Ausable Club, a three story clap-board structure similar to the Tahawus House, still stands as remaining evidence of a time when wealthy visitors came from all over to take in the beauty of Keene Valley. During the 1870s, the area was a center for creative minds, intellectuals and artists who found inspiration in the rugged landscape, the towering peaks, rivers and largely unspoiled country side. (Even Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung paid a few visits.)
The Tahawus House was built in 1871 and operated as a boarding house for nearly three decades. According to Porter, it was once the center of town, hosting lavish parties and community events. But the parties didn’t last long. A few years after the remodeling of the boardinghouse — with the front section of the original building sat safely across the street — a fire tore through the enormous wooden building — leveling it completely.
The boarding house was never rebuilt, but the Noon Mark Diner remains as a direct link to a time before the turn of the century — a time when Keene Valley was home to large boarding houses that fueled the areas economy such as the Beede House, Adirondack House which, like the Tahawus house, no longer exist.
According to “Two Adirondack Hamlets in History,” the burning of Tahawus House was in many ways the symbolic end to the era of grand hotels for Keene Valley.
Porter said he didn’t know the full story of the buildings history when renovating in 1986 to make room for the diner.
“It’s really a shame that we didn’t pay closer attention,” Porter said. “If I could go back and do it again I would. I’m sure we would have found some treasures from the past.”
An aerial photo of the Noon Mark Diner on state Route 73 in Keene Valley.