Monday, 1:27 PM
Landmark Diner Buckhead
Vaporwave vibes. The nineties-does-the-eighties, riding the coattails of the art deco revival. There are many things I wanted to say about such a beguiling building in Buckhead with its aluminum spaceship façade, but this Atlanta-does-New-York diner proved to be an imposter in every sense of the word.
Upon entering I was greeted by a large display case of cakes and pies and Greek desserts. I asked the woman welcoming me if they had cherry pie. She warmly responded, “Of course we have cherry pie!” My Twin Peaks heart did a somersault. Then she dropped her server book and fumbled to pick it back up. She was twitchy, bleached, and forcibly tanned with kind eyes. I removed my scarf and coat and pretended I was in Florida, swiftly inventing her backstory for my amusement. I had a hunch that this diner was suspect since I was the only customer for the entire duration of my stay, but it was a Monday post-lunch rush, so I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I was, after all, drawn to its pink, purple, and turquoise neon signage and gaudy accents. Its diluted glass block windows beckoned me to unearth the other side, in hopes of a droolworthy vintage interior. As I took my seat, the darkened, empty, and painfully ironic Punchline Comedy Club was adjacent to my left. My usual stab at humor in lieu of disappointment could not redeem this place. There was nothing funny about this meal, and the persistent mirrors made this revelation inescapable.
Though Landmark drips in the nostalgia of fond, childhood aesthetic memories, its overpriced menu features $20 salads that seem derivative of a post-apocalyptic wasteland where food is scarce, manufactured, and tasteless. In retrospect, I take full responsibility for being a vegetarian and venturing off of my turf. My server, a chiseled, blue-eyed Eastern European man, denied my request for a meatless chicken Caesar wrap even after my assuring him I had no issue paying full-price. His bewilderment alluded to how unusual a request this was, so I didn’t press the matter. I pondered whether the wraps were already prepped and thrown together, or if he was simply too lazy to ask the kitchen if it was possible. Even the fries I ordered, a staple and mainstay of every vegetarian’s casual dining experience, were unseasoned— some still mushy and cold inside. My table lacked a salt shaker, so I grabbed one from the next booth over. There was no ketchup on the side, so I asked for honey mustard in a futile effort for redemption, fully aware that a 3 oz. ramekin might incur a $2 upcharge in this new and strange land.
After serving me two pale tomato slices over a wedge of romaine, the server snuck away to eat his shift meal at a small table off to the corner but in plain sight. I noticed his tomato had all of its color and probably some of mine, too. When he finished eating, I asked him for a coffee refill. He disappeared into the back for a while, and the fake flowers in the tall windowsills mocked me. Roswell Road was business as usual, and I could feel the bitter wind attacking the window as I stared out at the intersection listlessly. I sipped the last drops from my mug which had become lukewarm, forcing gratitude for a peaceful moment of elemental shelter. I got lost in the geometric patterns in the booths’ upholstery, and just as my eyes locked into that sweet spot of mental ascension, my check was dropped off. I could have enjoyed a Starbucks latte cheaper than what my solo black coffee cost, and I loathe Starbucks. I left the cash I had, 25% tip included. I was lured into this tourist trap, and I certainly would not stick around to wait for change. Exiting, I noticed the song that softly played overhead was a cheap, bedazzled eighties-pop version of the original “I Think We’re Alone Now” from the sixties. Nothing is as it seems. Rather than spiraling out into an existential crisis, I said goodbye to each plastic, dusty plant that had likely fooled so many over the years, feeling relief that I wouldn’t follow suit. I’m sure this establishment is a beloved joint for its boozed-up patrons at 3am, but I would have been better off seeking lunch elsewhere, only to pop in for coffee and dessert afterwards. All I got from my first visit to Landmark Diner was smoke and mirrors, and heartburn.
And needless to say, I did not have the cherry pie.