May 20, 2003


Club sandwiches with greasy bacon on them. Roast beef sandwiches with French fries drenched in gravy. Nasty, viscous plates of creamed chipped beef. Onion rings big enough to choke a donkey. Metal stools that spun on a wobbly axis. A jukebox at every table. Mirrored walls smudged with tiny fingerprints. Restrooms that were heroically dirty and small.

Such was the atmosphere at the Pelican Diner on St. Pete Beach when I was a boy.

I have learned since moving back to the Tampa Bay area that the Pelican is no more.

Despite it's spectacular location at the corner where the Corey Causeway empties out into St. Pete Beach and the traffic from the beach heads north into St. Pete and Treasure Island, the Pelican just couldn't sustain itself. I read recently that it might become a "Blimpies" outlet or possibly be razed. That would be a shame, either way.

I say all this to point out where I found out about this: a great Web site, By The Way Online, which chronicles the decline of diners in the U.S. and also offers news about new ones that have opened. Reading it offers a pretty interesting glimpse of Americana.

Here are a few other diner links:

Americana Diner
Nestled in East Windsor, N.J. the interior of this diner is spectacular. Menu looks good, too, although I don't know of many diners offering Chilean sea bass. The site says there's a new lounge and martini bar, so it's probably one of these upscale places that's looking to draw the cigar and martini class.

Dinermite Diners
This company will build you a diner to start a restaurant, complete with all the chrome, neon padded chairs and checkerboard floor tile you can handle. The Silver Eagle model looks like my kind of place.

Director Barry Levinson nails the depiction of life for five 20-year-olds in Baltimore in the 1950s. Their hangout? The diner, of course. My mom, who grew up in Baltimore in the '50s and '60s, loves this movie. And you can't beat the cast, with guys like Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke, Steve Guttenberg, Kevin Bacon and Tim Daly in the lineup. Favorite line: "This is why you are so nervous all the time. You have like chunks of roast beef in your heart!"

Mel's Drive-In
If you've ever seen "American Graffiti," you know that that Mel's was the centerpiece of the action, where Richard Dreyfus first saw Susanne Sommers in her T-bird and where Ron Howard and Cindy Williams broke up. In reality, the real Mel's was first built back in 1947 in San Francisco. The restaurant expanded to a chain of 11 in Northern California, but eventually lost out to the McDonald's and Burger Kings. "Graffiti" director George Lucas decided to film the movie at the first Mel's in San Francisco right before it was torn down. A new Mel's opened 1985 in San Francisco again, based on the huge wave of nostalgia that the movie and the TV show "Happy Days" provided.

Posted by Jeff at May 20, 2003 08:04 AM | TrackBack