Fine din­ers

Rail­way-inspired road­side eater­ies still thrive as icons of the US fast-food land­scape. Mark Wil­liam Shee­han stops by for a clas­sic Amer­i­can bite

Sunday Mail - Travel/Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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