Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dissectologist
Diners have been quintessentially American eateries for over a century and have been featured in just about every facet of pop culture. Just think of all the movies and TV shows where the neighborhood diner was a focal point. Heck, there’s even a Food Network series devoted to them! It’s no wonder that diners and drive-ins are a popular nostalgic theme for so many jigsaw puzzles.
I grew up in a town with a couple of classic “greasy spoons” as well as an original A&W Drive-In, complete with carhops. Ah, the good old days when eating greasy burgers and fries, with plenty of ketchup and mustard delivered to your car was a fun outing! What could go wrong? My grandpa walked a few blocks from his office to have lunch at The Diner most days, much to my grandma’s chagrin. (Despite its appealing vintage looks, cleanliness may not have been one of The Diner’s strong points!)
The diner that’s truly a local institution in my hometown of Ottumwa, IA is The Canteen Lunch in the Alley. It’s been at its current location since 1936 and is still going strong. When a parking ramp project threatened to tear it down, there was such an outcry they built the parking ramp around it. Customers sit at 16 stools around a horseshoe counter with a metal steamer in the center where the famous “loose meat” hamburger is prepared. The classic “canteen” is served on an oversized bun wrapped in wax paper with a spoon on the side to scoop up any loose meat after you finish the sandwich. The Canteen Lunch was the inspiration for “The Lunchbox” restaurant on the sitcom Roseanne and more recently, The Connors. (Roseanne’s former husband, Tom Arnold, is a fellow Ottumwa native—so now you know!)
Diners often have extended hours, or even stay open 24 hours to accommodate folks headed to work, or shift workers or late-night partiers headed home. No surprise that coffee has always been a diner staple. Boomers Favorite Diner from Hart highlights just how important that cup o’ joe is to diner patrons. This 1000 piece puzzle from one of my favorite collage artists--Kate Ward Thacker--has so many colorful details. I especially got a kick out of the clever “hidden” messages in the license plate pieces in the top right corner!
The neon lights of those 24 hour eateries beckon to the after-hours crowd in this Late Night Grub puzzle from Masterpieces. The colors were easy to sort, but this 500 piece design was a little more challenging than I expected. Those bright lights really pop on this one!
If nostalgic themes like diners and classic cars are some of your favorite themes, Masterpieces has a great selection! Another I had fun assembling is the 1000 piece Quick Stop Diner. It has a collage of images from classic 50’s diners and drive-ins, from jukeboxes and malts to vinyl booths and a carhop on roller skates.
Some of the earliest diners were just converted railroad dining cars that kept their interior fittings. From the 1920s to the 1940s, they were prefabricated in factories like today’s mobile homes and delivered onsite ready to open as soon as the utilities were hooked up. They kept their streamlined shape, since many were shipped on a truck or railcar, and with their compact size they could fit on small, inexpensive lots. Rickey’s Diner Car is a perfect example of one of those classic models tucked onto a small lot in the big city.
Before the Great Depression, most diners and manufacturers were located in the Northeast--in fact, New Jersey was once considered the diner capital of the world. Especially after World War II, both travelers and diners headed west. What would Route 66 have been without diners to refuel drivers with caffeine and gasoline like in this 1000 piece puzzle from Willow Creek Press!
One of the most famous diner depictions is Edward Hopper’s 1942 painting Nighthawks. Hopper said “unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city” that was inspired by a restaurant he’d seen on Greenwich Avenue in New York with a few people—the nighthawks—inside. You can assemble your own 1000 piece version from Pomegranate.
One more puzzle I have in my to-do pile that I’m really looking forward to is Decaying Diner from Ravensburger’s Abandoned Places series, even though I’d hate to see a diner in this condition! I have to wonder—did everyone leave in such a hurry because of that surprise in the jukebox?
Hope you’ll have a chance to stop by your favorite eatery, enjoy some classic American cuisine, and then head home to relax with one of these jigsaws from Puzzle Warehouse!
Stop in again soon!