Haven Brothers Diner, parked at its nighttime location on Fulton Street, next to Providence City Hall.

Up all night.

Next to City Hall, Fulton Street, Providence
(401) 861-7777

Providence is considered the birthplace of the diner, with the lineage being traced back to Walter Scott's horse-drawn lunch cart in 1872.

Haven Brothers Diner is an establishment that owes much more to Scott's original concept than to today's more common stationary constructions of chrome and neon. This Providence tradition goes back to January 10, 1893, when Irish immigrant Anne P. Haven first opened her own horse-drawn lunch wagon, a Thomas Buckley "White House Cafe," at the corner of Dorrance and Washington Streets. She named it for her brothers, who helped her with the business. In 1906 Haven upgraded the wagon to a model manufactured by Wilfred Barriere of Worcester, Massachusetts.

The business passed into the hands of Anne's son, Dennis Haven, and his daughter, Catherine Haven Gannon, in 1927, and although the horse was replaced at some point in favor of a truck, the diner remained small and mobile. The current silver box (refurbished in the mid-2000s) is the third wagon to house the diner. The Havens purchased it in 1949 from the Fred W. Morse Company, a Providence tin-ware manufacturer.

The Haven family continued serving late-shift workers, theater-goers and government employees until 1953, when the business was sold to Albert Mollicone. He in turn ran the business for thirty-five years before turning over the reins to Salvero Giusti and Jack Ferry in 1988. Haven Brothers Diner continues to be run by the Giusti family from a location next to Providence City Hall, off Dorrance Street. The diner is pulled into position every evening at 4:30pm, and at 5am, at the end of a long night, the restaurant returns to its daytime resting place at 72 Spruce Street on Federal Hill.

Described variously as an icon and a health risk, Haven Brothers has plenty of ambience, albeit not of the sort most people tend to seek out. Authorities have tried to have the establishment shut down or moved on several occasions, but it has always had more friends in high places than enemies. In 1926, when complaints were received that the diner's location was "undignified," Alderman Rush Sturges introduced a resolution to the Board of Aldermen to look into "the advisability of removing from the vicinity of City Hall the lunch cart owned by Haven Brothers." However, it soon became apparent that no one wanted to be responsible for such an action and the resolution was tabled. The city again tried to oust the diner in the late 1980s, when Buddy Cianci was between mayoral terms, but as he told Yankee Magazine in 1996, "I wouldn't let them. The city would absolutely fall apart if they weren't there." Legend has it there was a time when things were so cozy between Haven Brothers and City Hall that the diner illegally tapped electricity from the government building.

On a recent visit we counted as many as twenty-five customers either standing in line or chowing down in the diner's cramped interior. The ordering and dining area, known to regulars as "the Aluminum Room," measures only 8 x 14 feet and has only four stools. A large mirror at one end gives the illusion of extra spaciousness or crowdedness, depending on the number of customers inside at any one time.

Haven Brothers, which was featured prominently in the 1995 film Federal Hill, attracts a pretty good cross-section of Providence's populace, ranging from leather-clad bikers to Brown students to former Mayor Cianci (you decide for yourself which of those is at the top end of the scale). The menu includes such greasy favorites as hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, lobster rolls, milk shakes, chili, and chicken 'n' steak sandwiches. Haven Brothers' plumper-than-average hot dogs have been described as "legendary," and we have to admit they're plenty good. Buddy Cianci recommends the beans, "especially in winter."

In addition to Federal Hill, Haven Brothers has had brief appearances on Made (MTV, 2007) and Brotherhood (Showtime, 2006-2009). And the diner left Providence, reportedly for the first time ever, for an appearance on NBC's Today show on April 8, 2008. Co-hosts Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira had been asked to name their favorite "Taste From Our Past" for a new segment, and each independently chose Haven Brothers. During the short segment they gushed their love for the humble eatery (gained from their years working at NBC 10 in Providence, back when the studios were located downtown), and tag-teamed Sal Giusti and his son Ivan, who seemed somewhat bewildered by the barrage of questions. Meredith remembers loving the hot dogs; Matt professed his affection for the hamburgers and chocolate shakes. Then Meredith asked Sal to make her a hot dog "with the works," even though there were already several prepared on the table. Did she eat it? We don't know, because they cut away to a commercial!

The camera must love Haven Brothers because, in 2011, the team behind On the Lake: Life and Love in a Distant Place started collecting footage for a possible documentary tentatively titled Haven Brothers Movie. If all goes well, it's expected to be completed by Summer 2012. In fact, if you have a good Haven Brothers story, they'd love to hear from you. Drop them a line at havenbrothersmovie@gmail.com.

The next time you're up at 3am and you feel those hunger pangs, don't feel sorry for yourself—go to Haven Brothers!

Haven Brothers: Legacy of an American Diner

Director Jeff Toste has been working on a documentary about Haven Brothers since 2010. He's collected tons of footage, including interviews with Haven Brothers customers of all walks of life, and now he's ready to take the project to the next level. But the next level requires not just time and digital storage but money. Money to purchase the rights to historic images, money to rent additional video and audio equipment, for editing, for sound design and mixing, for color correction, money for marketing costs and festival entry, money to print DVDs.

Please consider donating to this project. The Kickstarter campaign runs through June 23, 2012. Even just the cost of a couple of Murder Burgers, a plate of chili-cheese fries, and a large chocolate shake would help. Let's make Haven Brothers even more famous than it already is, so it'll be around anther 120 years!

Kickstarter Pitch:

VendrTV Spot:

Awards

Rhode Island Monthly's Best of Rhode Island: Best Late-Nite Bite (Basic Burger)(1995).
Rhode Island Monthly's Readers' Poll: Best Late Night Food (1990, 2010), Best Weiners in Providence County (1995), Best Diner in Providence County (2001-2004).

Information

Cost: equal to the capacity of your stomach

Time required: allow time for eating

Hours: 4:30pm-5am

Finding it: from Route 95 take exit 22 for Downtown. If coming from the South, turn right at the light onto Francis Street; bear left through the next intersection onto Dorrance Street; pass through one more light and keep an eye out on your right for Haven Brothers, parked at the far side of City Hall. If coming from the North, go straight through the light onto Memorial Boulevard; turn right onto Exchange Street and right again onto Exchange Terrace; move to the left lane and take a sharp left at the next light onto Dorrance Street; keep an eye out on your right for Haven Brothers, parked at the far side of City Hall.

What’s nearby

Distances between points are actual distances, without regard to buildings or amorous monsters. Your travel distance will be longer.

This article last edited May 25, 2012

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