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Inside Politics

Burgers with a side of politics

By Liza Kaufman Hogan
CNN

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"Crossfire" hosts Paul Begala, left, and James Carville talk politics at the CNN Diner.
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Watch at 4:30 p.m. ET when CNN's "Crossfire" -- with James Carville, Paul Begala, Tucker Carlson and Robert Novak -- originates during RNC week from the CNN Convention Diner. 
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Last Friday morning, it was The Tick Tock Diner, a 24-hour restaurant serving pancakes and corned beef hash at the corner of 34th Street and 8th Avenue, a block from Madison Square Garden, site of the Republican National Convention.

By Sunday night it was the CNN Diner, marked by a new, steel 26-foot sign with 232 neon chaser-lights and the CNN Election Express Bus parked out front. Over the weekend, Civic Entertainment Group had converted the restaurant into a television studio and retro hangout for reporters and political gadflies.

In a matter of hours the well-worn booths were replaced with bright red banquettes, the dim lighting replaced by 400 feet of red and white neon.

The chrome was gleaming, and CNN was showing throughout the room on flat-panel TV monitors and internet kiosks.

The Tick Tock waiters and cooks have been replaced for the week by CNN-apron-wearing servers from Barton G, the catering company of the South Beach restaurant.

Executive Chef Kerry Heffernan created the menu, a pared-down selection of traditional diner fare with a gourmet flare, including a luscious version of macaroni and cheese and a crisp club sandwich held together with American flag toothpicks.

The bar in the back is more "Sex and the City" than "Alice," serving drinks like the "Red Line," a mixture of Absolut Citron, cranberry juice, Triple Sec and Rose's lime juice served in a martini glass.

Why a diner/studio when CNN had prime skybox and platform space with the other networks at the Garden?

"Diners are where America comes to have its conversations, where neighbors meet to discuss family and politics," according to Stuart Ruderfer, co-CEO of Civic Entertainment Group.

"It's also the place in New York where journalists come to write stories and interview sources with a cup of coffee."

Among the people dropping by to appear on CNN, enjoy a meal or watch the convention were the Rev. Jerry Falwell, independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader, former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and actor Stephen Baldwin.

"Crossfire" is produced live from the diner each afternoon, and other CNN shows are using the set for interviews.

Squeeze bottles of ketchup and mustard sit precariously close to the pundits as they spar over politics. Let's hope they don't get carried away.


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