Destinations: Marcus Dairy in Danbury, Connecticut

First it was a dairy farm, then a milk processing and distribution business, then a restaurant. Now Marcus Dairy in Danbury, Connecticut is the premiere gathering place for motorcyclists in the northeastern U.S.

man parking his motorcycle outside the front windows of Marcus Dairy in Danbury, Connecticut

Visit the Marcus Dairy in Danbury, Connecticut any Sunday for great people watching and good food.

Photo by Joe Berk

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The Marcus Dairy in Danbury, Connecticut, is to New England what the Rock Store is to Southern California — a legendary motorcycle destination with great crowd watching and great food. Getting there is a big part of the fun, especially on the roads in neighboring upstate New York. The motorcycles show up every Sunday morning, offering a wonderful opportunity to check out the bikes and people. And the ice cream … wow!

The story goes back to 1913, when the Marcus family started a dairy farm in rural Danbury, Conn. In 1948, Jack Marcus bought more property and set up a milk processing and distribution business, and the restaurant to sell good food and Marcus Dairy ice cream. Jack’s wife, Pearl, ran the restaurant.

With its great diner food and Marcus Dairy ice cream — the ice cream really is special; you’ve got to try it! — the Dairy was destined to become a classic motorcycle destination, and it did. By the early 1960s, it was a popular riding destination. In addition to the good food, great service and unpretentious atmosphere, riders back in those days liked the restaurant’s large front windows — you could keep an eye on your bike. Today, you have to either arrive early or get lucky to find a spot by the windows, but don’t worry about parking; there’s plenty.

By the 1980s, Marcus Dairy became known as THE hot spot for motorcycles in the greater New York metropolitan area (it’s only 66 miles from Manhattan), and the crowds grew. The New York Times wrote about the place in 1983, and the growth continued. Marcus Dairy became a favored Sunday morning destination for Malcolm Forbes and other area celebrities, as well as for plain folks. The Dairy’s location at the intersection of two major highways (Interstate 84 and U.S. Route 7) also helped. The restaurant is nestled below the intersection ramp, a prominent feature seen in many photos and paintings of the place. There are great roads nearby in New York and Connecticut, and it’s within a two-hour ride of nearly every major city in the greater New York metropolitan area.

In the late 1980s, Kawasaki featured the place in its advertising and attendance continued to climb. Marcus Dairy hosted the first of Don Clady's Super Sunday charity events back then (the Marcus event was later changed to Cycle Sunday), and that concept took off, too.

By 2003, the crowds had grown to over 12,000, and things were getting a bit wild with riders engaging in parking lot burnouts, wheelies and more. The local government clamped down, so events moved to a nearby university for a few years, but in 2006 Cycle Sunday was restarted at the original (and current) location.

It’s a more civilized gathering now, prompted no doubt by the desire to avoid losing a great motorcycle gathering spot. The temporary move in 2004-2005 led to a rumor that the Marcus Dairy motorcycle events had ended, but like many rumors, it just wasn’t so. The events are back and they are going strong.

Marcus Dairy hosts two Cycle Sundays annually in April and October and they continue to draw thousands of motorcyclists. But you don’t have to wait for these semi-annual events to check out the scene. Every Sunday finds the Marcus Dairy parking lot full of motorcycles and the restaurant full of hungry riders. No matter what your preference (vintage bikes, touring bikes, Harleys, metric cruisers, sport bikes, sport touring bikes, dual sport bikes), you’ll find like-minded motorcyclists congregating in the parking lot and in the restaurant. It’s still a family-run business (Sean Marcus and his wife, Gina, run the show), and it’s still a great destination.

The Skinny

What: The Marcus Dairy, a legendary East Coast motorcycle gathering spot. It’s at 5 Sugar Hollow Road in Danbury, Conn.

How to Get There: From New York City, take I-684 north to I-84 east, then U.S. Route 7 south. From the Connecticut coast area (around Bridgeport), take I-25 north, U.S. Route 6 west, I-84 west and Route 7 south. From points north, head south to the 84, and then motor over to the 7 south. Once you exit the 7, it’s a couple of quick rights (watch for — no kidding — Backus Avenue, and then Sugar Hollow Road). It’s best to MapQuest or GPS a ride to Marcus Dairy, though, as the area’s roads may well have been designed by the same folks who engineered early British bike electrical systems!

Best Kept Secrets: The turkey sandwiches (either hot or cold); they are exceptional! The riding in Upstate New York, especially around the Fort Ticonderoga area.

Avoid: Speeding on the New York freeways (they are some of the most heavily patrolled roads in the world, and those N.Y. State Troopers don’t smile much).

More Info: Marcus Dairy