Diners offer a trip back through memory lane. Photo by Victor Block

In 1872, in Providence, Rhode Island, a man named Walter Scott began selling take-out food from a horse-drawn wagon at dusk. He attracted late shift workers, theatergoers and others who were out and about after dark.

Based upon his success, a factory soon began building “lunch wagons.”  These were followed in turn by converted railway dining cars then, during the 1920s-1940s, by modest buildings featuring Art Deco and Streamline Moderne elements which copied the appearance of those cars.

After World War II, and opening of the Interstate Highway System, these diners saw a boom in business. The typical establishment had stainless steel siding and nostalgic, retro-style touches.

Diners Deliver a Walk Down Memory Lane

Their casual atmosphere, comfort food cuisine, extended service hours and modest prices provided alternatives to higher-priced restaurants, and continue to do so. They also provide a walk down memory lane for people seeking to recapture a chapter of our country’s culinary past.

Here’s an introduction to several iconic diners that offer good food, efficient service and an immersion in part of the American story that combines sustenance with sentimentality. Travelers seeking this experience may use an Internet search to find classic diners throughout the country.

Diner decorations like this one at Jack's Diner in Hollywood, Florida recall times from the past
Diner decorations like this one at Jack’s Diner in Hollywood, Florida recall times from the past. Photo by Victor Block

Diners are popular throughout Florida with year-round residents, long-term “Winter Snowbirds,” who spend several months each year escaping the winter cold where they live, and short-term passers-by.

My wife Fyllis and I joined the latter group during our recent visit to Hollywood, where we enjoyed brunch at Jack’s Diner. Along with the usual menu items, it serves up southern favorites like biscuits slathered with homemade sausage gravy and pecan pie.  Decorations throughout the interior transported Fyllis and me back to earlier years in our lives.

At Diners, Waitpersons Can Become Instant BFFs

As is true at many of these establishments, members of the waitstaff are very friendly.  Female customers often are addressed as “Honey” and “Doll” and men become “Darling.”

Caroline, our Jack’s Diner waitress, acted as if we had known each other for years and become BFFs. She felt comfortable confiding in us the news that “It gets crazy here early in the morning when people from nearby adult drinking establishments come by for a bite to eat.”

The A 1 Diner in Gardiner, Maine is one of the oldest still in business. When it opened in 1946, it immediately became popular among workers in the nearby paper mills. The same neon signs, vinyl booths and other décor features that greeted them continue to appeal to people today. It’s popular among both locals and tourists, who drop by to enjoy stick-to-your-ribs dishes that include some Maine-specific menu items.

Some Diners Have Been the Scene of Real Life Dramas

The Olympia Diner in Newington, Connecticut is another ageless eatery, in business since 1954. It has appeared in movies, commercials and public service announcements. It also has been the setting for some real-life dramas. People have met their spouse there, business deals have been made, a marriage proposal accepted and, on one occasion, divorce papers served.

The vintage bright neon light display which identifies the Marietta Diner in Georgia indicates that, like many such establishments, it’s open 24-7 and offers a full breakfast all day – and night. Along with the usual fare, its menu includes a section listing Greek specialties. Some regulars return to enjoy the baklava and baklava cheesecake, which are popular signature dishes.

Bright neon lights attract people to the Marietta Diner in Georgia
Bright neon lights attract people to the Marietta Diner in Georgia.
Photo by Kathy Swaggerty-Dreamstime.com

Diners That Double as Mini-Hotels

The 59er Diner in Leavenworth, Washington has TV fame, having been featured in an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. A popular retro highlight is the jukebox that can play hundreds of 1950s tunes. 

Another attraction is that the establishment serves eggs from its own chickens and vegetables grown in its garden. Travelers who wish to spend the night may book one of the comfortable cabins on site.

As explained by Moody’s Diner in Waldoboro, Maine, when the number of vacationers visiting the state began to grow, “it seemed like a good idea to build a couple of cabins” to put them up. Today, the 104-seat diner is augmented by 18 cottages and rooms. The property is owned and operated by three generations of its original founders.

A few of the 104 seats at Moody's Diner in Waldoboro, Maine
A few of the 104 seats at Moody’s Diner in Waldoboro, Maine. Photo by Jennifer Lobo-Dreamstime.com

At some diners, the aroma of freshly baked goodies attracts first-timers and convinces many to return. The Eveready Diners in Hyde Park and Brewster, New York prepare their own breads, cookies, cakes and pies.  Those who order apple pie enjoy fruit grown in their orchard. 

Every morning, bakers at the Penrose Diner in Philadelphia prepare goodies for that day’s customers.  From breakfast favorites like muffins, cinnamon buns and Danish pastries to sweet treats like cookies, cakes, and pies, their pastry case always has plenty of delicious choices. They even make their own Greek baklava from a family recipe.

Fun Along With Food is Served Up at Some Diners

There also are establishments which augment their food with fun, and none do this better than Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-in located along historic Route 66 in Seligman, Arizona.

The entertainment begins with the vintage signs and license plates, pennants, trinkets and other memorabilia that decorates both the exterior and interior. Guests are greeted with a sign that reads: ”Sorry We’re open,” followed by all manner of pranks and jokes. Typical is a door with two handles, only one of which provides access into the building.

Delgadillo's Diner combines food and fun
Delgadillo’s Diner combines food and fun. Photo by Larry Gevert/Dreamstime.com

When the word “diner” comes to mind, your first thought might not be entertainment. However fun, along with food, is but one of the unexpected, and enjoyable, experiences that await those who drop by some of these quintessential throwbacks to times gone by.

Rambling Writers

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