Artist Edward Hopper's famous "Nighthawks" painting has had admirers speculating for years whether the diner depicted was inspired by a real-life eatery, and one Greenwich Village restaurant owner is convinced he knows the answer.
Fiko Uslu, owner of the newly opened Classic's Cafe at Greenwich and Christopher streets, says he's so sure the space was the setting for the classic 1942 painting that he wants to rename the restaurant Nighthawks.
"We did a lot of research, a lot of legal paperwork," he said. "I don't want to get anything wrong."
The painting shows an all-night diner in which three customers are seated, lost in their own thoughts, under an "eerie glow," according to a description on the Art Institute of Chicago website.
Classic's Cafe manager, Alex Vigro, said they never thought about a connection until a mystery man named Mark stopped by last week and pointed out some similarities.
"These windows right there, the view in front of us, they still remain the same," he said. "The corner, I think everything, the design, everything is really similar."
It's not the only location that has been suggested as the inspiration for Hopper's painting, which hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. A building housing what is now a flower shop is one of at least three Greenwich Avenue locations frequently discussed, and it's not lost on local residents.
"Certainly the shape of this building with the windows, and the way it comes to a peak, potentially," said Cynthia Kueppers.
Blogger Jeremiah Moss has chronicled his journey to find the real-life Nighthawks diner, writing in a 2010 New York Times op-ed piece that city folklore has suggested that Mulry Square -- a triangular lot at Greenwich Avenue and Seventh Avenue South -- was the site of the diner. His research found that it couldn't be the case because a gas station stood there from the 1930s to the 1970s.
Hopper himself has said the painting was inspired by a "restaurant on Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet," according to the Art Institute of Chicago, but never got more specific than that.
Carter Foster, the curator of drawing for the Whitney Museum, which has 2,500 drawings donated by the artist's widow, making it one of the largest Hopper collections anywhere, said the painting was probably influenced by multiple locations on the avenue.
"There were three corners on Greenwich Avenue, not Greenwich Street, where Hopper walked by frequently that were roughly the same shape as the diner in 'Nighthawks,' and I think those were the inspiration in a very general way, as was the tip of the Flatiron building," said Foster.
The artist with the answers died in 1967, leaving behind his painting and the speculation that goes along with it.