Donna Liquori Staff writer
Section: LOCAL,  Page: D2

Date: Sunday, October 6, 1991

There's a big difference between diners and restaurants, explains the owner of the Miss Albany Diner.

"In a restaurant, you talk in seclusion with your friends," Cliff Brown said. "In a diner, you talk to everybody." And that's just what Brown was doing Saturday as the diner celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Brown worked the room, moving between the counter and booths, sharing nostalgic tidbits with customers, and excusing himself from time to time to dunk the frying baskets into the grease near the grill.

Antique cars lined Broadway as part of a car show sponsored by the diner. Old-time organ music resounded through the tiny eatery, ornate with cherry wood and porcelained steel.

Brown, 64, a retired life insurance salesman for New York Life, bought the diner, which was used as a backdrop for the movie "Ironweed," in 1986. Photos of Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson filming at the diner hang above the counter despite Brown's assessment of the movie.

"It's very boring," he told a customer who had not seen the flick.

Miss Albany, a Silk City Diner built in Paterson, N.J., is one of the few prewar diners in the United States in near-original condition.

In 1941, it replaced a lunch cart that had held the spot since 1929. The diner sits within view of Nipper, the giant kitschy landmark logo atop the RCA Corp. at 911 Broadway, the diner's neighbor since 1954.

Throughout the years, the diner has been known as Lil's, Elaine's, the Street Car Diner and the Firehouse Diner.

Alice Lindheimer of Schodack Landing vaguely recalled visiting the diner in the 1940s when she was a child.

"I've been here many times," she said. "It brings back memories."

Nick Paone of Clifton Park took advantage of the day's prices, lowered to 1940s fare for the anniversary. "Where else can you get a cup of coffee for a quarter?" Paone said between scarfing down two burgers.

The diner also reminded him of his youth in Syracuse.

"As kids hang around malls, we hung around diners," he said. "It's probably why I drink so much coffee."