For many people, diners have become a home away from home. Since they are open late hours – many 24 hours a day – they are a popular place to socialize or eat after a late night out on the town. In fact, the diner has been cemented in place as a cultural icon — it is a setting in acclaimed films like Pulp Fiction and When Harry Met Sally, TV shows such as Seinfeld, some of the greatest novels of the 20th century, and even a painting by Norman Rockwell.
Let’s throw it back to a time before shows like Happy Days and Riverdale to see how the diner originated, and to offer tips on how you can upgrade your kitchen or recreational bar area with this classic style.
Originally conceived by Walter Scott, the first diners didn’t look much like the buildings with chrome interiors and neon signs that we know today. In 1872, Scott repurposed a horse-pulled wagon into a car that served sandwiches, coffee, pies and eggs to townspeople late at night. These early ‘mobile’ diners (precursors to today’s food trucks) had large wheels, overhangs, murals and frosted glass, while later iterations had smaller wheels and larger counters. In 1913, Jerry Mahoney established the first stationary diner, ushering in what would eventually become “diner culture.”
By the 1950s, Mahoney owned 6,000 diners across the nation. As these fun restaurants gained popularity after World War II, their aesthetic took on more of the retro look most of us are familiar with, including elements such as colorful leather booths, wood paneling and porcelain tiles. Once diners spread to the suburbs, the look changed again as stainless steel exteriors, large windows and wall decor were incorporated.
As styles and trends circle back around, more consumers are opting for retro styling, including the diner aesthetic, for their kitchens or recreational spaces. To bring some of this nostalgic inspiration into your kitchen, consider adding a table and chairs with chrome accents and bright, vibrant colors, or opt for leather (or vinyl) booth-style seating. Other elements could include checkered tile and floors, retro artwork and neon signs. Flea markets and antique stores are great places for picking up many of these items. Last, but certainly not least, bring the look together with retro appliances like those in our colorful Northstar collection!
Diners have become an American icon. They have become so popular, in fact, that some have been certified as historic sites. If you happen to venture out on the open road – perhaps even Route 66 – this summer, drop into one of these classic diners. Or if you prefer a fun experience at home, there are plenty of subtle or overt ways to give your kitchen the perfect dose of diner flare.