Nilda Jacobson, a server at Tastee Diner for 22 years, came to the restaurant to pick up her last paycheck. The 88-year-old diner closed on Wednesday. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)
5 min

Tastee Diner in Silver Spring was exactly what it said on the sign. Its food wasn’t tasty. It was tastee. It was tastee in the way only food at a diner — an authentic, unironic diner — can be. At Tastee Diner, no avocado has ever been smashed against a thick-cut piece of multigrain toast, then sprinkled with flakes of sea salt and served alongside a chai.

But if you wanted eggs over easy, grits, country-fried steak or a cheeseburger (or AND a cheeseburger), Tastee Diner was the place to go.

Was the place to go. Word went out Wednesday morning — on Facebook, in text messages — that the downtown Silver Spring diner was closing for good. By the time I got there at 1:30 p.m., the door was already locked, a sign taped to it: “Sorry. The Tastee Diner of Silver Spring has closed. Thank you for the opportunity of letting us serve you for so many years.”

So many years. When the diner first opened in 1935 it was at the corner of Wayne and Georgia. When that intersection got developed in 2000, it was picked up and moved a half-mile north to Cameron Street.

A year later, in 2001, Nilda Jacobson started working there as a server, weekends, 8 to 3. On Wednesday she came by to pick up her last paycheck. She hadn’t known the place was closing. None of the workers seemed to have known.

“We’re closed,” said a waitress as she took a smoke break on the patio around the side of the diner.

“I need some bacon and eggs,” said a man in a flannel shirt.

“I need my job, how about that?” said the waitress.

There were still diners inside, people who’d gotten in before the doors were locked and were still finishing their meals. Every time someone would exit, Chip Py, photographer and Silver Spring gadabout, would shout, “What’d you order?”

“Salmon cakes,” said Darrell Roberts, a 64-year-old from Silver Spring.

He was a regular. Roberts said that when his kitchen was being renovated a few years ago, he ate every meal at the Tastee Diner.

“It’s a loss,” he said. “It’s truly a loss.”

Jacqueline Dolson was in New Jersey when she heard the diner was closing. She immediately jumped in her car and drove 3½ hours to have one last BLT. Her family — husband Ed and kids Emma, Claire, Elizabeth and Will — ate at the Tastee Diner every Saturday for 25 years, and Dolson always ordered the BLT.

“But it wasn’t about the food,” she said.

You don’t go to a real diner for the food, or only for the food. You go because it’s open. You go because it’s bright. You go because it’s 3 a.m. and you need to be around people, even if the people perched next to you at the counter are strangers.

You go because it’s become a tradition. Twenty-five years Dolson had been coming here, since her oldest was 5.

“I thought one day I’d bring my grandkids here,” she said.

Out of the diner walked Bill Metcalf (double cheeseburger, onion rings) and his son Dan Metcalf (mushroom Swiss burger, french fries). They’ve been having lunch together at Tastee every Wednesday for five years, ever since Dan, 43, encouraged Bill, 75, to move down to Silver Spring from New England.

“On my Instagram you’d see a lot of shots of black coffee and Dad’s hands,” said Dan.

Bill’s a retired classics professor from Yale. I asked if classical literature included anything appropriate for this sad occasion.

Not really, Bill said: “The Romans dined at home.”

Tastee Diner was no one’s home, but it was a lot of people’s home away from home. On Wednesday, Roadside Development issued a news release announcing it had purchased the Silver Spring parcel from owner Gene Wilkes, who also owns Tastee Diners in Bethesda and Laurel. In the release, Wilkes said he was selling the Silver Spring location because of medical reasons.

Roadside Development intends to build a mixed-use residential-retail project that would incorporate the art deco dining car portion of the diner. I asked the developer if it will be a restaurant.

“We are still in the early design and planning stages for this project and unable to confirm if it will be part of a future restaurant at this stage,” Jeff Edelstein, a Roadside Development partner, wrote in an email. “Roadside has a long track-record of historic preservation and adaptive reuse projects and we feel really comfortable and excited about incorporating the original dining car into the project.”

On Wednesday, people continued to walk up to the diner, try the door, see the sign, shake their heads, turn around. Glowing in the window was a lottery sign: Powerball up to $96 million, Mega Millions at $396 million. All it would take is luck.

A memory, circa 1981, at the old Silver Spring Tastee Diner, before they lugged it across town like it was a chunk of stone for the pyramids. My college roommate, Pat, and I have been out at clubs all night. We’re jazzed and we’re hungry and we can’t face returning to the pigsty that is our Langley Park apartment.

We stop at Tastee Diner and each splurge on the steak and eggs. No Michelin-starred restaurant ever made two people as happy as us just then, slouched in a booth at 3 a.m., eating our steak and eggs at the Tastee Diner.

This column has been updated with a comment from the developer.