Among the diner’s many romantic images, one of the most pervasive has it as a stainless steel, middle-of-nowhere truck stop, where the coffee is strong, the waitresses sassy, and the food portions big. The Bel Aire would fit well within that image.
That description by Randy Garbin, who honored the Bel Aire as a Featured Diner in his 2005 book, Diners of New England. A year later, the diner was closed.
The Bel Aire Diner has been closed for nearly two years now, after a failed auction on eBay. There’s a sign saying “Closed for Renovations” but there doesn’t seem to be anything happening. It was last mentioned in the local newspaper back in August, when owner John Kallas appeared before the Licensing Board to discuss the potential sale of the diner’s liquor license.
The Bel Aire is a Mountain View diner, #359, which was installed here new in 1953, when this stretch of Route 1 was an important tourist route through farmland. According to one of article, the wife of one of the owners suggested the name “Bel Aire” in honor of the fresh breezes of this then-rural location. The Bel Aire was always a trucker and traveler’s favorite, a large diner with over eighty seats and a full liquor license. A 1992 article by Jeremiah V. Murphy of the Boston Globe mentions another type of customer:
Sometimes they arrive in the parking lot area in the same car. The man walks into the diner and sits alone and waits. A few minutes later the woman leaves the car and quietly walks into the diner. She knows where the man will be sitting. She walks over and sits beside the man. They talk very quietly and then they drink a coffee and leave. They are very discreet.
According to owner John Kallas, the diner’s business took a big hit twenty years ago when a ramp connecting Route 1 and I-95 was built near the diner, diverting much of the traffic to the interstate. And then a highway divider was installed on Route 1 between the northbound and southbound lanes, which meant that commuters heading south in the morning toward Boston had to double back in order to visit the diner on the northbound side. By the time it closed, the diner was only open eight hours a day, down from twenty hours in its heyday.
Back in January of 2006, John Kallas was quoted as saying:
If we can’t get at least $175,000, we’ll probably keep it, pull it off its foundation, and start looking for another site. Even in downtown Peabody, I could almost guarantee, we would be busy all the time.
But for now, at least, the Bel Aire stands empty on what has become a particularly ugly section of Route 1. It’s a shame — this is one of the few surviving diners in the area, and I’d love to see this one back in action, somewhere else in the area if not here in its original location.
Home on the Range — This Roadside Approved Attractions article by Teri Dunn includes photographs showing the exterior and interior of this diner when it was open.