Bethesda’s Tastee Diner opened in 1935; the original dining “cab” had to be renovated after a devastating fire in 2002.
It's widely said that Washington, D.C., isn't exactly famous for its overabundance of 24-hour dining spots. Granted, the city does have a smattering of 24-7 eateries, like The Diner in Adams Morgan, and Osman & Joe's Steak & Egg Kitchen in Tenleytown. And on the weekends, one can toss in stand-bys like Annie's Paramount Steakhouse, and Kramerbooks & Afterwords Café, in Dupont Circle.
But head out of the city, and there are quite a few more choices in the 24-7 eating department, like Amphora's Diner Deluxe in Herndon, Bob and Edith's Diner in Arlington, Double-T Diner in Catonsville, and in Silver Spring, Laurel and Bethesda, the Tastee Diner.
The Silver Spring branch hails back to 1946. Laurel's been going strong since 1951. And in Bethesda, the Tastee Diner's old-fashioned dining "cab" has been around since 1935. And despite a fire that tore through the place 10 years ago, not only does Tastee's smell like a classic diner, it looks and feels like a classic diner, too.
There's the old-fashioned counter with bolted-down stools, the cushy pleather booths with mini-juke-boxes and, of course, the healthy helping--or not-so-healthy--helping of greasy-spoon favorites, made fresh to order on a sizzling hot griddle.
Larry Hall, who's been working at Tastee's for about seven years, says, "The diner is Bethesda. Without the diner, there is no Bethesda. We have mostly customers that come here, people that are like second-, third-generation of customers. You know, their grandparents been here, their parents, their kids and their kids."
One of those long-timers is Andrew, a 20-something Bethesda native who was wolfing down a chocolate shake and fries with his friends, Corinne and Carly, when we dropped by.
Andrew says he and his friends come to Tastee's "a few times a week, late at night." And this point, the crew has been nocturnally noshing at Tastee's so long, that, as Corinne says, "it's kind of like home when it's late at night, you know? Because really there's nowhere else to go, so this is kind of the hub for us."
And it's a "hub" for a whole lot of other people, too! Corinne says Tastee's' late-night scene attracts all kinds of characters.
"Definitely just a lot of motley crews will come in when you're there at weird hours," she says. "Of course, we probably look like motley crews when we come in, too, so I guess I can't judge!"
Kyle Brick waits tables on the overnight shift, and he says the 'motleyest' crews he's seen at Tastee's are the lovebirds.
"It's probably the romantic types getting too frisky," he says with a laugh. "That happens quite often. We've got our cases of Lysol ready to go!"
Kyle says Tastee's is at its rowdiest once the bars close.
"We'll have all the tables filled up, four, five, six people to a table," he says. "We'll have a line out the door--almost to the street sometimes."
Al Snowden started cooking at Tastee's in 1978, so he knows all about the after-bar rush.
"First [the bars close in] Maryland, then D.C., closes at 3," he says. "So we get a double whammy, and usually cleaning up around 4:30."
After so much time behind the counter, Al's pretty much seen it all at Tastee's. When asked to name the strangest thing he's seen, he replies: "I don't know if I can say that on radio!"
Though he does say you'd be surprised who you might be elbow-to-elbow with when you come to Tastee's.
"You could have a street bum here, you could have a senator here, and the street bum looks better than the senator!"
But not only has Snowden seen it all, he's cooked it all. Tastee's menu is a five-page compendium of comfort food, and if you don't see what you want, "if you can tell me what it is, and how exactly you want it, we'll do our best to get it there. If you can't tell me, I can't do it."
When the Metro Connection crew departed the diner some time after 2 a.m., we saw a bustling line of people streaming out the door--everyone eager for burgers and breakfast, hot cakes and hot coffee, and, in the wee small hours of the morning, none of them ready to call it a day.
[Music: "Night and Day" by Coleman Hawkins from Body and Soul]
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