Iconic Chevy Chase diner closes after 30 years

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The American City Diner has closed its doors after operating for three decades as an iconic destination on Connecticut Avenue NW.

Steve Salis, the owner of Kramerbooks & Afterwords and Ted’s Bulletin, is taking over the diner space, as reported July 9 by Washingtonian and the Washington Business Journal, but has not yet announced his plans for the Chevy Chase landmark. An Alcoholic Beverage Control Board license application for “The new ACD” at 5532 Connecticut Ave. NW seeks approval for a restaurant serving American cuisine with 111 seats inside and another 54 seats in a summer garden, according to a public hearing notice published in the July 13 issue of the DC Register.

Former owner Jeffrey Gildenhorn, a onetime mayoral candidate, opened American City Diner in the late 1980s. It was awash in old-timey decorations, and a big billboard in front read, “There’s no way like the American way.” Gildenhorn died last year after choking on a piece of food while dining at the Palm Restaurant in Northwest.

In its heyday, the diner was a popular place for fluffy silver dollar pancakes, thick milkshakes and piled-high burgers. But it had taken a downward turn in recent years, with a 2.5-star rating on Yelp and many commenters suggesting it was time for the diner to close, or at the very least undergo renovations.

The diner announced the closure July 8 on its Facebook page. “It’s been a privilege serving you but the time has come for the American City Diner to close its doors. We will forever be grateful to Jeffrey Gildenhorn for bringing this beloved institution to Connecticut Ave.,” reads a post from the management.

Salis, a co-founder of local pizza chain &pizza, bought Ted’s Bulletin from Matchbox Food Group in 2017 with plans to retool and expand the diner chain, which has DC locations on 14th Street NW and 8th Street SE, as well as three suburban spots.

While Salis has remained mum on whether the American City Diner space will be a new Ted’s, he seems to have had a magic touch as of late. He opened Federalist Pig two years ago, and the barbecue eatery is now ranked second on a Washington Post list of the 11 best barbecue joints in the DC area.

Several commenters on the Chevy Chase Community Listserv said they had already been hoping to see Ted’s Bulletin move into their neighborhood. But for many other past and present local residents, the end of a neighborhood institution brought out nostalgic feelings.

That diner was the first place I ate at with my family when I moved down to DC to attend American University,” said Shea Mulcahy, who graduated in 2008 and now lives in Texas. “From there, it became a tradition that whenever my parents came down for family weekend, we would go there. The food was good, but the atmosphere inside the diner was what made it special. And there’s not many vibrant old-style diners like that anymore — especially in an Instagram world, you always could take a good pic there.”

Cosima Gallina, a lifelong resident of the area, grew up just one block from American City Diner. “My mom took me there every week for burgers, milkshakes and arcade games,” she said. “I had so many happy childhood memories there and am so sad to see it close.”

Gallina, an American University graduate, loved the jukebox and often saved up her quarters to play her favorite songs.

“I really did have a lot of great memories there,” she added. “I know it changed a lot over the years, but it really was an awesome place when it first opened when I was a kid.”

This post has been updated to clarify that Shea Mulcahy is not a current DC resident and to include information from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board application for a new license.

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