By RICHARD PYLE
Like the pioneers of old, the city's landmark Moondance Diner is about to pull up stakes and head west to Wyoming. Not to Sundance -- that would be too poetic -- but to LaBarge, a wide place in the road with only one other restaurant and not even a local grocery store.
Within a few weeks, the Moondance's stools, counter and tables -- which have stood for some 70-plus years near the Holland Tunnel entrance in lower Manhattan -- will reopen for business in LaBarge, Wyo., pop. 493.
The Moondance is not the first traditional dining-car style eatery to have faced oblivion. The American Diner Museum, of Providence, R.I., claims to have saved more than 30 from being destroyed.
But few carry the Moondance's cachet as an after-hours haven where a less than sober celebrity might drink coffee next to the cab driver who brought him there and as a setting for films and sitcoms ranging from "Spider-Man" to "Friends" and "Sex and the City."
LaBarge residents Vince and Cheryl Pierce found the Moondance for sale on the diner museum's Web site and bought it for $7,500 -- a bargain price that museum founder Daniel Zilka said reflected the urgency to find a buyer quickly to save it from the wrecking ball. The site is marked for a luxury condominium development.
He said the diner is an important example of American culture and architecture.
"It's a plain Jane diner, but it has intrinsic value in this age of franchise restaurants," Zilka said. "People in LaBarge will have a chance to experience what a real New York diner is. There is nothing like it in Wyoming."
The Pierces hope the Moondance will attract business not only from oil and natural gas industry workers in the area but also from tourists traveling between Jackson Hole, 120 miles north, and Green River, 56 miles to the south.
Cheryl Pierce said she and her husband, who drives water trucks for the nearby oil fields, have wanted for years to own a restaurant, and "we saw an important need for one in LaBarge."
An experienced camp cook, she said she may take up the spatula herself when the Moondance reopens -- and perhaps modify the menu, which features a breakfast sandwich on a bagel called the "Oy, Vey!"
"We're meat and potatoes people, so it will probably have meat loaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, and things like that," she said.
She said her husband and her father will haul the 36-by-15-foot diner back to Wyoming on a flatbed truck. The package includes the grill, counter, stools, tables and chairs, but the flatware and crockery stays behind.
The move, expected to take place within 10 days, is already a hot topic in LaBarge, whose population actually is "probably more like 600 people," according to town clerk and LaBarge native Betty Moceika.
"When I heard about it, I was just shocked," she said in a phone interview. "Everybody is excited about the Moondance Diner."
Michael Perlman, a New York preservationist whose Save The Moondance Committee played a key role in the rescue, said traditional stainless steel-sided diners like the Moondance are "an endangered species, and we need to preserve the few that are left."
Perlman said he had never been to LaBarge, "but this definitely is going to give me an excuse for going there."