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Story By John Murray
The news that an iconic and abandoned diner on Wolcott Street is going to be demolished to make way for a new Burger King sent Observer readers into dual overdrive; first was an overwhelming sense of nostalgia for late night dining experiences in Waterbury, and second, was an avalanche of opposition to another fast-food option in a city already teeming with them.
Let’s start with nostalgia. For three decades (from the 1970s to the 1990s) Efthios Bassias owned and operated the Betsy Ross Diner at 998 Wolcott Street in Waterbury. Born on the Greek island of Crete, Bassias was known as Mr. B., and he offered greater Waterbury a unique dining experience 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Efthios passed away in 2019 and in his obituary stated he, “was known for his happy and welcoming personality, and made everyone who knew him feel loved. He loved to joke, laugh, rhyme, and sing, and he had the heart of a child.”
There were family reunions held at the Betsy Ross Diner, first dates, there were proposals in the parking lot, and the diner became a go-to place for the late-night scene after the bars and clubs closed down. The diner also became notorious for alcohol-induced fights, drunken revelry, and occasional shootings in the parking lot.
One of the waitresses at the Betsy Ross Diner, Xhenet Aliu, went on to write a novel that focused on Waterbury and the diner. In a review of her book, “Brass, in the Boston Globe, it was written that, “Had it not gone out of business the Betsy Ross Diner, the real-life greasy spoon where Xhenet Aliu sets much of her debut novel, might have been one of these folksy locales sought by national news reporters trawling for “real Americans” in the wake of Trump’s victory. Known by many for its late-night cheeseburgers and by some for its parking-lot brawls.”
The Betsy Ross Diner became the Athenian IV in the late 90s, and briefly the Brass City Diner before closing in 2010. The building has sat empty for a decade. On a recent visit to photograph the building a reporter pressed his face up against a window and was greeted by a barking dog prowling and protecting the inside of the abandoned diner.
News of the impending demolition of the structure shared on The Waterbury Observer’s Facebook page uncorked hundreds if memories and reached 70,000 people in 24 hours. Here are a few comments….
Kellyanne Koemp – Omg. I loved the kids’ menu there! All the character names. My mom took us there after a long day of shopping at the Naugatuck Valley Mall next door. Also, in my teen and early adult years I remember heading there after clubbing.
Jessica Callahan – So sad. Too many memories to count- post-date night coffees, late night breakfasts, the jukeboxes… end of an era.
Kelly Quinn – I woke up to this thought about Betsy Ross, Athenian, White Colony and most other CT diners. Nowhere else can one order Eggs Benedict, a lamb gyro, a bacon double cheeseburger, waffles with fresh fruit, a turkey club, pot roast, gravy fries, hummus and pita bread, a Thanksgiving turkey sandwich with stuffing and cranberry sauce on it, a four-pound salad, tacos and refried beans, lasagna, chicken kabobs, meatballs, liver and onions and ten kinds of pie.
Susan LaCava – Oct. 25, 1980, After going roller skating at Roller Magic my then boyfriend and I went to The Betsy Ross Diner to get a bite to eat. In the parking lot after eating, he proposed to me We have now been married for 40 years.
Ashley Marie – I used to go to the Betsy Ross Diner every. single. Saturday with my 3 grandmothers, dad, cousins, brother, and aunts. It was my favorite part of growing up. Sad to see it get knocked down and changed into a freakin Burger King
Brenda Beaulieu – I remember going here late at night it should be a 24-hour diner again we have enough Burger Kings around already.
Erika Clendinen – Brenda Beaulieu too many fights and shooting for there to ever be another 24-hour diner in Waterbury.
Tanisha Baptiste – When I was younger, they had the best hot chocolate. I also loved the tabletop jukeboxes.
Luz Martinez Rodriguez – Many 2,3,4 a.m. sobering up sessions ♀️ Good times Always got a kick of the mini tabletop juke boxes. It was a nice spot, but it also brought along trouble.
Dottie Collette – I was one of the first waitresses that worked there. I worked all shifts especially waited on the after-bar crowd. Tips then were nowhere near what we got but I raised 4 kids with my tips. I made $1.61 an hour without any benefits. Lots of memories.
Kate Willette – Kind of sad to see it go, this was our spot as teens, too many memories to count.
Tanya Labeck – So many great meals and memories. It’s like a Waterbury landmark, I can’t believe it’s being demolished!!
Roderic Gonzalez – Destroying a beautiful diner to replace it with a Burger King, Smh. ♂️ What they should do, is Re-Open it under new management. I would have loved to Re-Open that spot and turned it into something Great, but I guess it’s already too late, oh well, Have it your way, lol.
Dale Thurber – Roderic Gonzalez I agree with the other here. It’s been sitting there empty almost the entire time I’ve lived in CT. I actually don’t remember it being open. My advice is everyone start supporting the Tower diner on Freight Street and help them build a big following, so we don’t lose another diner
Geoff Gillott – Roderic Gonzalez, Who is they? The building has been closed and abandoned for a decade now, if anyone was going to buy it and open a new diner, they would have.
Teresa Cerullo Pineau – Wow !! So many memories with friends !! A friend of mine from high school and I would go there late and stay all night just talking. We honestly didn’t go to the bars, but we’d be at Betsy Ross waiting for our friends to join us after the bars closed!
Jason Martin -Many memories there…I saw Santa passed out at his table on Christmas Eve 1988.
Sal Foti – Thanksgiving night of 1980 went to Betsy Ross with my girlfriend, now wife, Diane Foti. after seeing a movie. It was during dessert that she first told me she loved me. We went there many times together. The last time was a few weeks after seeing the movie E.T. The Extraterrestrial. Sitting next to us was a young mother and her very young son who’d obviously also seen the movie. She put a quarter in the table-top jukebox and played Neil Diamond’s Heartlight. Brought tears to our eyes.
The diner has been closed for more than a decade.
In a review of the Athenian Diner in the early 2000s Ryan H. wrote, “Yikes! This place used to be called The Betsy Ross Diner and had a picture of the lady sewing the stars and stripes on their sign. They had little jukeboxes on each table. It was neat. Then one day it changed hands and, yikes. The food is fine. I’ve even been to receptions misguidedly held there. But it seems like once every year, someone either gets shot, or comes very close to getting shot. Last I remember, they kept the bar open later than the other local bars on the weekends. And wouldn’t you know it, many nights would end with gunfire! It’s sad to think of Betsy Ross being pumped full of lead.”
Jose Cruz -Last time I went, a fight broke up right next to us. Next thing I know, a guy landed on top of our table and the sugar bottle was all over my lap. I never forget the guy staring at me in disbelief. I still remember his face.
One Observer reader recalled the diner (then the Athenian Diner) was the spot her son was murdered. Sheila Vann Garlington wrote, “My Damien lost his life there. Not a good memory. 12/29/01 was a sad day!! “
And it might have been the murder and the brawls that ended up closing the diner, but whatever the reason, there was strong blowback on another Burger King in the city. Readers called for another all -night diner, a restaurant, Chick-fil-A, Chipotles, Five Guys or an offering the city doesn’t already have.
Many of the comments lacked awareness of how a new business opens in the city. The property was for sale for more than a decade and when a local Burger King owner decided to buy the spot, demolish the diner and open up another franchise, city officials are supportive of this effort which brings in new taxes to Waterbury. This is how capitalism works, and some readers pushed back on the torrent of negativity towards a new Burger King.
Jasmine Marie – Ya complain about anything. It’s a new development and opportunity for jobs. That diner and land has been there for years unoccupied and unsold. Honestly, it’s the development of new jobs for me. So many people are struggling and at this point anything is better than just an abandoned structure wasting away.
John J Strang – ya I swiped this little pink piggy elephant from behind the register and hiked it to myself and punted it like I was trying to pin the opponent back to the goal line. This little pink sum btch stuck in the ceiling tile !! I always feel like somebody’s watching me !!! Was the theme song of the night as the dude at the diner was eyeballing me all night cause I was being a manic… Wonder if this is still in the ceiling .. I better get there before demolition commences. No photo description available.