The classic American diner is a cultural icon. Today, most people associate the diner with its streamlined, silver bullet, art deco period or the chrome, checker board and vinyl glitz of its baby boom heyday. However, the diner began as a horse drawn lunch wagon. Its evolution is a continuing expression of changing American culture.
The first diner was a lunch wagon, developed by Walter Scott in 1872. Scott’s success serving customers where they gathered and at late hours quickly inspired others to copy his efforts. An industry soon followed, building new lunch wagons as well as converting decommissioned horse drawn trolleys. Innovators added features for customer comfort, including room for the customer inside the lunch wagon as well as adding the stool, which is still a key feature in diners today.
The proliferation of lunch wagons prompted cities to to regulate the hours and locations where they could operate. Owners skirted the rules by parking their lunch wagons in permanent locations. No longer concerned with going mobile, the owners began beautifying the outsides to attract customers. Lunch wagon manufacturers followed suit and switched their products from wagons to prefabricated buildings.
The 1920s and 1930s added their art deco stamp to the classic American diner. Bold colors, geometric shapes, neon signs and stainless steel were standard motifs. Diners kept much of their look through the ’40s, but after WWII followed American culture to the suburbs. Diner manufacturers vied to capture the eye of passing motorists and their prefabs reflected America’s love of the automobile. The diner changed shapes again with the space race of the ’60s, adding rockets and fins to the decor.
The classic American diners in Denver is still alive and well today. At Gunther Toody’s you can see all the traditional elements as well as feel the fun, and the food and friendly wait staff will keep you coming back for more.