Railway-inspired roadside eateries still thrive as icons of the US fast-food landscape. Mark William Sheehan stops by for a classic American bite
N THE 1920s and ’30s, train travel in the US was king and it was considered a big deal to eat in the dining car. Slender dining carriages boasted white-gloved waiters in black tie, wine lists and even finger bowls to embellish a meal by rail. It was considered an uppercrust experience.
Clever entrepreneurs keen to ring the cash register picked up on this American longing for meals in motion and began prefabricating aluminium (“allUm-in-Um” as Americans pronounce it) roadside eateries that resembled dining cars and railway carriages.
The idea is almost exclusively American and, although countless ma and pa diners have fallen to the wreckers’ ball or made way for the Golden Arches, many still thrive as icons of the US roadside landscape.
Tight, tomato-red vinyl, spinning-chrome soda fountain stools and glowing neon are as American as apple pie … and a plate full of fries.
The waitresses on rollerskates are, sadly, almost all gone but at least the bottomless cup of coffee remains the rule, rather than the exception.
Visit a diner at least once on a trip to the US. Sit at the counter, order a soda pop or take to a vinyl-covered booth and pop a dime, 10¢, into the table-side jukebox of rock and roll oldies.
To tackle even the tip of the “BLT” iceberg of the most iconic eateries in America would require volumes, but here is a “short stack” of the best bites for dining, diner-style.
The locals are happy to share many more. And please remember, tipping is expected in the US.
Though they’re a clone of the original, Lori’s Diners are all over the San Francisco Bay area and offer great fun served at good value. Nail down the burgers with Idaho-sized french fries, a malted or a famous icecream soda.
Don’t stop at just one Lori’s – each has different props, wallhangings and authentic American pop artefacts.
MAKING TRACKS: (from far left) Lori’s Diner in Ghirardelli Square, San Francisco; and Brooklyn Diner in New York’s Times Square. Pictures: Alamy