Tuesday 9 September 2014

Diners & Drive-Ins

"Treat yourself to your local diner or roadside eatery.  Slurp the joe, wolf the waffles, converse with the counter crew.  Your neighbourhood diner is more than an idealized hunk of Americana; it's a human harbour in a frenzied world-sea that needs you to help define and sustain it." 
(Don Sawyer, painter of American diners)

Model T courtesy upload.wikimedia.org.

Henry Ford's Model T revolutionized America.  By the 1920's, four out of five Americans owned an automobile.  Road construction boomed.  Americans had a bad case of wunderlust.  They took road trips on the newly paved highways, stopping to get a bite to eat.  

Food stands with "animate facades, catchy motifs and bold signage" sprung up along the roadside. Two early diners were the Texas Pig Stands and California's Tom O'Shanter, both of which had drive up parking.  A&W appeared in the 1920's, first as a rootbeer stand, later as a hamburger restaurant. White Castle, which also appeared in the Twenties, is credited as "the first fast food chain in the United States".  

A Texas Pig Stand, the first ever drive-in restaurant, circa 1920's courtesy www.oakcliff.org.

The diners and drive-ins survived the Great Depression by offering affordable food, convenient locations and a wholesome atmosphere.  White Tower, whose servers dressed in white uniforms like nurses and were called "Towerettes", offered hamburgers for five cents.  While the Great Depression forced the menu to change, it didn't curb the diner designs.  Neon signs were all the rage.  Diners adopted shapes of cylinders, octagons, windmills and even airplanes.  Drive-ins offered servers on roller skates who brought food right to the customer's car.  

White Tower restaurant courtesy novosedlik.com.

With the outbreak of World War II, diners were streamlined in the 1940's.  Servers became counter employees.  Booths were added and corners were softened.  In the 1950's, the Sonic Chain, another drive in restaurant, opened its doors.  By the 1960's, commuters wanted prompt service and cheap food.  Diners changed their look:  brick arches, flagstone faces and mansard roofs dominated many restaurants.  

By the 1990's, Americans reminisced for the diners of the past.  Henry Ford Museum added a travelling diner to its display where they served real food.  Today, while diners still exist, drive-ins have almost gone the way of the dinosaur.  Only the Sonic Chain and A&W still have drive-in restaurants.  

A&W courtesy pinimg.com.

Note:  For more information, read The American Diner Then & Now (Richard Gutman) and Carhops & Curb Service (Jim Heiman).

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