The Laurel Diner – Laurel, MD

The Laurel Diner opened c.1934. It originally operated in an early Silk City, with an unusual end-door setup. C. 1951/1952, this Silk City was moved to Baltimore to replace an old converted trolley diner. The Silk City was replaced with a brand new Comac Diner.

Like Outrider’s Diner, just down the road, the Laurel Diner was part diner, part bar. It looks like the Laurel also had an off-licence, as it advertised itself as a liquor store as well. It also owned a small two story brick motel, adjoining the diner.

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The diner acquired metal awnings in the 1980s. By that point, the neon “Chops” had been Changed to “Pizza”, and signage for the motel had been added. Also take note of the name change. It is still doing business as part of the local “Tastee Diner” chain. The large double signs have recently been repainted, but over the years, have lost all the sub-signage. Note the Little Tavern in the background of the night-shot.

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Diner Find: Peter’s Carry Out

You would never know to look at it from the street. For years I’ve been going to Potter’s and Weaver’s violin shop, which share a back parking lot with Peter’s. For years I’ve been going to the Tastee just a few blocks away, and I’ve stood under the awning of Peter’s to shield my camera from glare while taking pictures of the former Little Tavern located right across the street. But for whatever reason, I’ve never looked inside.
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But sure enough, back in behind the facade of this little shopping strip lies a surprise. A long row of stools and a barrel roof. Whereas all the other buildings in this strip have basements, Peter’s does not. The barrel roof visible on the inside of the diner, is finished for exterior use on the top side, in a space which is now an attic, with the long ago addition of a flat roof, flush with the rest of the businesses on that street. Google satellite photos show a clear seam on either side of Peter’s. All that confirms that Peter’s was not built on site, but was something “other” from the fabric of the streetscape, brought in from somewhere else and set up.

Now let’s take a look at the building itself. Old newspaper articles talk about Maryland being a haven for streetcar-turned-diner conversions in the depression era. Most disappeared as soon as the owners were able to scrape together enough money to buy a proper factory built diner. Take the fomer State Diner in Baltimore, for example, which was a trolley diner until it was replaced with the current secondhand 1930s Silk City in the early 1950s (the Silk City was the original Laurel Diner- now the Tastee). Here’s another interesting Maryland trolley to diner conversion.
With a trolley conversion, like the White Diner or the Crossroads Dinor you would expect to find curved ends. While the original front wall of Peter’s has been punched out to allow more light from the storefront and more seating, it’s clear that the end walls (the one in back as well) are flat, but with curved corners, which makes me think it is far more likely that this was a factory built-purpose built diner.

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The ends of the diner have a curve running perpendicular to that of the main barrel, similar to a Silk City roof, not like, say, a ’20s O’Mahony or Tierney. The roof has a distinctive profile- not a smooth curve, but one that has steeper slopes on the sides and a flatter roof. The closest thing I can think of with this particular roofline is a very early, narrow Silk City model. A surviving example would be the West Shore Diner. There is also an abandoned diner of this Silk City model in Montana (formerly Gordy’s) and the Miss Jersey City diner, now long gone.

Here is a picture of the interior of the West Shore for comparison. The Silk City is wider, but the similarities in the barrel roof are notable. Same profile, same curve at the ends. With all the years of modification and renovation at Peter’s, though, the definition of the barrel profile could have been somewhat lost, making real identification difficult. The shape, though, is undeniably that of a diner.
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The backbar gives insight into its history, but not its origin. Custom-Bilt National Toddle House, Inc.
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The patent numbers, from 1933 and 1934, correspond to the backbar equipment which was found in all Toddle House restaurants at the time. And sure enough, this building had a long stretch operating as a Toddle House.
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Toddle House was yet another diner-concept early fast food place, similar in its early days to White Tower, Little Tavern, etc. Like Little Tavern, they used a very small tudor cottage style building. While Little Tavern had the counter oriented perpendicular to the front facade, Toddle House had theirs, diner style, parallel to the front. So for a restaurant which was just stools and a grill, it’s easy to understand why, and how they would take over a barrel roof diner like this. It also means that the first of many renovations, disguising the diner’s true origins, took place 75 years ago, when the diner itself was still relatively new.
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And here are some news stories from the late 1950s, mentioning it as a Toddle House.

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Peter’s Carry out has a website!
It’s located at 8017 Wisconsin Ave, Bethesda, MD 20814

Laurel Diner updates

It looks like the Laurel diner (now the Tastee) goes back quite a ways. I’ve found newspaper records of it going back to 1934, when three men an a woman tried to kidnap one of the waiters. The Laurel diner has also had a liquor license going back as far as September of 1939.

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I’m fairly confident this is a drawing of the actual diner and not just period clip art. Assuming that’s the case, can anyone make an id or at least a guess as to manufacturer, if it dates from a 1934 or a bit before?

1934
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1939
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Laurel Diner

I found another matchbook view of the Laurel Diner, which I believe shows an older diner which the current Comac replaced. If you have any wild guesses as to builder or date of the diner from the matchbook, please throw them out there.

Frustratingly, it’s just a drawing on the matchbook, but it seems too specific to be stock art, and I haven’t seen the design on any other matchbooks, so I’m going to assume it’s at least fairly representative of what was there.

Note the doors at both ends. The rooftop sign advertises it as both a diner and a bar.
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Matchbook design is mostly the same, but diner is different and it’s billed as the “New” Laurel diner
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Postcards showing the early 1950s Comac which later became part of the Tastee Diner Chain. I wish I could find an actual photograph to confirm the earlier diner.
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Diner Slides- 1976-1988

Some more from the archives, in no particular order.

Short Stop Diner, now Irene’s pupusas. Wheaton, MD
It’s a 1956 Kullman. The neon was nearly as big as the diner itself, but has since disappeared.

Then:
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Now:
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Diner- Front Royal, VA
It’s a 1956 Mountain View. Front Royal used to be a hotbed of diners. It had this one, Nick’s Good Food diner, the Do-nut dinette, and another ’50s stainless model. The other three have been knocked down, and this one’s now a used car dealer.

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Now:

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Frost Diner- Warrenton, VA
The Frost is a 1955 O’Mahony.

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Inside
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Counter
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A sign of the times- Disco Fashion T-shirts
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Pork Chop- $1.25, Fried Chicken $1.75
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Tastee Diner- Silver Spring, MD

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Tastee Diner- Laurel, MD
a rare Comac brand diner

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Bud’s Broiler – New Orleans, LA
Bud’s Broiler
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Allen Theater
Current Photos
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Flower Theater
Current Photos
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Summit Diner– Somerset, PA
Summit Diner
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Moody’s Diner- Waldoboro, ME
Moody’s Diner
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Diner- MA
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DC / MD diner trip – May 24, 2009

This was my first real diner trip in a while. I met up today with Mike Engle, author of Diners of New York; the man behind NYdiners.com, and roadside buff and frequent Zippy the Pinhead contributor Ed Engel at the American City Diner, and headed out from there.

The first stop of the day was the American City Diner of 5532 Connecticut Ave NW Washington, DC. It’s a late ’80s Kullman, one of the early retro-styled diners, and one of the ones that did it right. For some photos as it appeared when new, click here. Since then, it’s been added on to, with a large side addition, and a front porch which obscures everything to the left of the vestibule.
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The Left side of the diner- 2009
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The left side of the diner – 1989
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The former Howard Theater. Great rusty marquis on this one.
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The now abandoned Wonderbread / Hostess Factory

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Ran into a little excitement along the way between these two stops, but all’s well that ends well.

Northeast Academy of Dance Neon sign. Look at the detail at the left hand corner of the sign.
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We hit up the Capital City Diner, which was moved here on the 20th. Watch the video of it being moved. This Silk City, formerly of Avoca New York, has made its way to the Trinidad neighborhood of Northeast DC.
Photos at its original location and some backstory can be found at :A Real Historic Diner Coming to DC!

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This next leg of the trip had some neat neon and signage

A&R Auto Parts
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Syd’s Drive In / Liquor
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Cross Roads
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Tesst theater
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Hyattsville Hardware / Franklin’s
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Calvert House
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Silver Spring’s old Canada Dry bottling plant
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A quick stop at the Silver Spring Tastee was made.

Now
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Then
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More old photos can be found here.

Then a side trip to Forest Glen, parts of which have deteriorated greatly since my last visit.
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Dinner at the Tastee Diner in Bethesda
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Then
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And the trip’s final stop at Bethesda’s former Little Tavern. A 1990 photo of it, when it was still a Little Tavern, can be found on the Diner Hotline.

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Tastee Diner, Silver Spring, Maryland

This one is the first diner I remember going to, back when I was four or five. When it was moved on July 17, 2000, I was there. I was there when it re-opened at its new location, two blocks away from the old one. Prior to their move, it had that wonderful homey diner feel; small, old. When they moved it, the original factory kitchen was left at the original site, and demolished with the dining room addition, to make way for the new Discovery Channel headquarters. It was cleaned, and re-installed down the road and around the corner with a new dining room addition. A new sign was put up. And the diner feeling that’s so present at the two other Tastees is gone.

Here are some pictures of it, spanning its years.

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’70s night shot

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Old awning with stitched sign and telephone booths

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Front shot

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The diner, a few years later. Different awning, sign on the front and on the sign, different color scheme.

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The diner at its old location and brown color scheme

Today
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The diner, dwarfed by the 2000 additions

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The cleaned exterior and new neon

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The diner is now used as mostly a waiting area for the dining room, and a place for the cash register line to assemble. Most of the booths have been removed to make room for that function.

Tastee Diner, Bethesda, Maryland

While I’m on Tastee diners, and while I still have access to my dad’s slide archive, let’s take a quick look at the Tastee over in Bethesda, an old O’Mahony.

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Here’s how it looked back in the early ’80s?, before the roof was added, before the addition was put in, before the building went up behind it, before the sign was taken down.

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Here’s what it looks like now. It hasn’t changed much outside since this photo was taken. This photo isn’t mine, but none of mine were from the correct angle to roughly match the old one.

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a little closer in.

Tastee Diner, Laurel, Maryland

As far as diners within a reasonable drive go, the Tastee in Laurel is my favorite. Great food, served fast in a nicely designed diner by a rare maker, Comac. The Tastee sits on an island of land between US 1 North and US 1 South, with entrances to the parking lot from both sides. It sits with the old train station to its right, and the old Little Tavern to its left. The kitchen, a small dining room, and the T.D. Lounge are all housed in the original brick addition.

This Tastee Diner was built by Comac in 1951, and replaced an earlier monitor roof diner at the location. The manufacturer is rare as they were only in business for four years or so. Their tag is found above the door. It opened as the Laurel Diner, but was bought by the local diner chain, Tastee Diner, which once had locations in Fairfax, Va, Rockville, MD, Bethesda, MD and Silver Spring, MD, as well as sponsoring an award winning duckpin bowling team after WWII. The Fairfax location is now known by its original name, the 29 diner, the Rockville location is long gone, but the Silver Spring and Bethesda ones are still going strong.

The two original neon signs still stand on either end of the diner, a silhouetted chef perpetually beckoning hungry travelers. The sign’s original neon reading “Laurel” is long since replaced with “Tastee”. The sign also originally read “Air Conditioned / Steaks-Chops / Cocktails / Patron Parking”. By the 1980s, “chops” had been replaced by “pizza”, and a sign for the adjacent motel had been added. Those have been gone for years, though.

The outside of the diner has changed very little in all the years since it was installed, with the exception of the usual wear and tear. Inside is also in good condition, with some changes made over the years, but nothing, with the exception of televisions, which detracts terribly. They are now smoke-free, which is nice.

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The “New” Laurel Diner- Restaurant and Liquor Store – “Before and after the races, as always your best bet.. is the Laurel Diner

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The Laurel Diner showing the neon

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Later postcard from the Laurel Diner

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Copyright Michael G. Stewart
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Old slide of the diner. Copyright Michael G. Stewart

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an early ’80s view of the . Copyright Michael G. Stewart

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The sign c 2007

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The Tastee Diner c 2006

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Comac Inc. Builders of Better Diners – Irvington, NJ
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Inside the diner. Note the newer stools and tile floor over the original terrazzo. Booths are presumably original old-syle dark wood.

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2007
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Me in the diner yesterday. The double cheeseburger was gooey and delicious on a perfectly toasted bun, with a side of homemade mashed potatoes. The refills on the crushed ice filled cokes came before I could finish even half of the previous one. The name of the diner says it all.