By Lars Trodson
For more than 70 years, people have been looking for Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks" diner, and the search has been unsuccessful. There is now more or less agreement that it wasn't a real place. The diner was either a mashup of details from places all over New York, now demolished, or something wholly from Hopper's imagination. “That diner from Edward Hopper’s 'Nighthawks?' It never existed,” read one Gawker headline from 2010. Jeremiah Moss, the founder of the blog “Vanishing New York,” also lamented that the diner probably “never existed.”
Hopper himself was vague, saying that the diner was located in Greenwich Village “where two streets meet.” That hardly pinpoints it. Hemingway’s short story “The Killers,” published in 1927 and a favorite of Hopper’s, was cited by Hopper scholar Gail Levin as an inspiration, who also suggests that van Gogh's "Cafe at Night" is a source image due to its muted color palette.
There is, however, a place where a fusion of many of the details in Hopper's painting did exist, but it is located in an unexpected and wholly unheralded place. I believe that these humble origins are precisely why Hopper hid the real inspiration for his painting from the leading critics — and the public — at the time. It would have diminished the work in the eyes of many.