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Blue Bell Burgers: 1948

The Blue Bell diner at 619 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington. June 1948. View full size | Even larger | Read the menu. The Blue Bell had an upscale cousin on 10th Street, the Waffle Shop. Photograph by Theodor Horydczak.

The Blue Bell diner at 619 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington. June 1948. View full size | Even larger | Read the menu. The Blue Bell had an upscale cousin on 10th Street, the Waffle Shop. Photograph by Theodor Horydczak.


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I ate there!

As a youngster in the late '50s, I used to work at my dad's magic shop at 12th and Penn on Saturdays. He would give me 50 cents and I'd walk down to the Blue Bell hamburger shop for lunch. I remember the menu,the prices, the burgers and the shoestring potatoes made fresh. Thanks for the picture, it takes me right back. I wish I could remember what happened last week as well.

Waffle Shop

I did a little more looking into this. It appears that the reason this looks so much like the floorplan used in the waffle shops is because it was, in fact one of the chain, as seen in this picture: , which was taken in 1979. Whether or not it was a waffle shop at the time the interior shot was taken is put into question, by the menus reading "Blue Bell", but the fact that the layout is uncommon, and nearly identical to that used in waffle shops, and that it definitely was a waffle shop later on, makes me think it was.

The menu does read, "Famous for Waffles and Good Coffee."

What do you think?


This photo is fascinating to me. The horseshoe lunch counter is, as previously stated, nearly identical to the Waffle Shop in DC, but it is also a carbon copy of what is now Ollie's Trolley on 12th street; same horseshoe layout, which is very rarely seen, same stools, same backbar. The Ollie's trolley and the Waffle shop both feature the same small tile mosaic which wraps from the exterior to the interior, as well as the same large picture windows. It would be interesting to see if the exterior of this one had the same tilework facade. I wonder if all three were done by the same contractor, and if so, who, and were there any else in the area?

Re: Separate bays?

What you are seeing as a "gate" is a partition that does not extend all the way across the space. The hinged door is square -- the right half is hidden by the partition, which is quite a bit taller but appears to be the same height because it doesn't go all the way across.

Separate bays?

What I find interesting - and vaguely strange - is that there appears to be a gate or wall of some sort between each section, and fairly substantial ones at that. You can see them just to the left of the cash register. I've got to say, it doesn't seem overly practical too me. If someone near the Gentleman's room orders a milk shake it has to be passed through four different sections. Any idea of why it was done this way?

[You're misinterpreting the image. See comment above. - Dave]

Coke and Pepsi

My recollection from the 1950s is that coke came in a 6.5 oz bottle while Pepsi came in a 10 oz bottle, so there was more than brand preference going on here.

I can recall eating at establishments that had multiple bottles on offering and I would, at the age of 6, always opt for the larger Pepsi.

However, this lunch counter clearly has fountain cokes. I would bet that the Pepsi comes in a bottle, so in addition to size you get two varieties of drink.

the menu

the closeup shot of the menu shows they had coke AND pepsi. you rarely see that nowadays.

Remember this line?

I will gladly pay you Tuesday, for a Hamburger Today.

"Ladies" and "Gentlemen"

Remember when there were "Ladies" and "Gentlemen", and restrooms for the same? Restrooms don't say that anymore, and I guess there aren't Ladies and Gentlemen anymore either.

What'll you have, hon?

Looks like paper straws with the spiral design in the glass on the counter. Remember those? Not a piece of plastic in the place. Hey-- where are the ashtrays?


it ALWAYS tastes better in a place like this

Ken made me hungry for

Ken made me hungry for breakfast!

Maybe good?

Fruit salad sundae...


What a great place. I love the horseshoe bar seating... If this place would be in my neighborhood today, I'd never cook a meal again!

But it is very strange to see it so empty - it looks like there's actually customers waiting outside, hoping that the photographer hurries up so that they can have breakfast.

Menu Type

I've always loved the old hand lettered signs. Kind of a lost art now.

It looks like an exact copy

It looks like an exact copy of The Waffle Shop previously featured.


That sound you hear is James Lileks desperately building a time machine.

[That's pretty good. I can't believe his newspaper canceled his column. The fools. - Dave]


Google Maps (link to map) places the Blue Bell Diner about a block away from the old photo studio of Civil War photographer Mathew Brady. I used to work in the Brady building as a maintenance guy. There were no tenants there at the time (mid 1990s). Although the building was in perfect was pretty creepy.

Of course the two establishments were separated by almost 100 years, too.

Any chance...

that this image is available as a print? I've got a friend who would love it!

[It's on my to-do list! - Dave]


If you look to the far right you can see the reflections of people standing outside the restaurant, looking in the window.

What a great picture I see a

What a great picture I see a cash register rather than a computer. I guess shortly after this date in the future Mcdonalds started their 15cent hamburger stand a mere three cents more than Blue Bell

$0.90 buys ...

Waffles, bacon, two eggs, toast and coffee, with a pure cream-cup.

And another detail ...

"No Extra Charge For Toasting"

can I order breakfast?

no "people" makes for a sad picture

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