"You've never had a pickled egg?!" Rick Dietle is looking at me with an ornery expression of disbelief.
He turns around and unscrews a big pickle jar, reaches in, grabs a mauve-colored orb from its vinegary brine. It goes on a paper plate with a slice of pickled beet and a packet of saltines. He puts the plate in front of me on the bar. "That thing'll knock you on your [butt]," he says with a proud shake of the head. "My mom makes them, and they're strong."
Dietle pulls a frosted mug from a freezer and pours me another $2 Bud draft. "You'll need that in a second," he says. I sprinkle a little salt and pepper on the egg and bite in, having no clue, really, what to expect.
Wow. That's good. It has just a mild vinegary kick. Dietle looks at where I've bitten and sees that the egg is still fairly white inside. "Oh yeah, it hasn't been in there long enough. It's supposed to be dark [from the red wine vinegar] all the way through," he explains. "We go through 'em too fast. No time for them to pickle right."
Not many places have mom's pickled eggs on the bar. Or mom's chili. But Dietle's Tavern has both, along with a ton of history to chase them both down your gullet.
Hanging framed behind the bar is the liquor license, dated Nov. 11, 1934. It was issued to Rick Dietle's grandfather, Richard "Pops" Dietle, a German immigrant who had a bakery on Georgia Avenue. The repeal of prohibition in December 1933 gave him an idea, and soon he was running a bar. (That liquor license is the oldest one in Montgomery County issued to the same address.)
In 1947 a young woman stopped into Dietle's and was taken with the guy behind the bar. "He was flipping the beer glasses a certain way," Anne Dietle says. "He would hit his arm so the glass would go up in the air and spin around and he'd catch it. I guess he was trying to impress me." That was Pops's son Herb Dietle, who bet a co-worker he'd soon be dating the pretty patron. He won the bet. Herb and Anne were married the next year, and it's Anne's excellent chili and pickled eggs that continue to feed the regulars.
She began running the bar in 1975 after Herb's death, but works there only two days a week now. "I'm going to be 75 this coming November, and it's exhausting work," she says. "I worry about my boys getting burned out there." Her boys are the twins, Rick and Rudy Dietle, who've been working at the tavern most of their adult lives, but who took over the bar's operation when their mother underwent quintuple bypass surgery five years ago.
"I can't say enough about them," she says, "and about my other son Mark, who's worked there part time. I have two wonderful girls, too. They're older and married."
I ask her about Hank Dietle, the namesake of another anachronistic bar, out on Rockville Pike. "Oh, that was Henry, my husband's brother. After Pops retired, my husband and Henry ran this place, but in the '50s Henry sold out to my husband and opened his own place in Rockville. Not where it is now, but up in Rockville proper. Later on he opened the place across from White Flint, but there's no Dietles there anymore."
There are photos over the bar of all the generations of Dietles (none of the camera-shy Anne, however). Along the other walls, hung between too many beer signs to count, are framed shots of turn-of-the-century Silver Spring, including a muddy Washington-Brookville Turnpike before it became Georgia Avenue, the old Forest Glen B&O Railroad station, the original Dietle's bakery and more.
There's not much else: a worn-out pool table, a pinball machine, a couple of TVs and a jukebox. "It's the best juke in Montgomery County!" shouts Jim Boland, who with his twin brother, Chris, does his best to keep Dietle's in business. "We love the place because we're identical twins and there's identical twins behind the bar." The jukebox is excellent: Commander Cody, Roy Orbison, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Canned Heat.
The place is to be kind drab. But it is still a place for regulars in the neighborhood to come by after work for a cold, cheap beer (no hard liquor here). "This place is a secret," says Andrew Kavanagh, a local who discovered Dietle's after moving here from Ireland a few years ago. "It might seem a little daunting at first, if you're not a regular, but everyone in here has a heart of gold."
He doesn't mind the lack of decor. "This place doesn't bend or flex to fashion. They like it the way it is, and I like it the way it is."
Yeah, me too.