American City Diner, the retro-styled institution for all-day breakfast and blue plate specials, closed in 2018 after more than 30 years along Connecticut Avenue NW. Now the coveted Chevy Chase site will enter a fun new phase as an open-air destination for tacos, desserts, whiskey, and horseplay.
Veteran area restaurateur Tim Walsh, who runs American tavern the Avenue and Capital Crab on the same strip, just secured a lease to take over the diner’s location (5532 Connecticut Avenue NW).
When the diner’s owner Jeffrey Gildenhorn passed away in 2017, his family decided to close the business due to difficulties bringing enough money in—especially in light of electrical problems that kept the restaurant closed. Five years later, the now-dilapidated building is beyond repair and due for a demolition and fresh chapter.
“The only thing that works is tearing it down and making it a green space,” Walsh tells Eater.
The 6,000-square-foot replacement, shooting to open next spring, will feature family-friendly games, holiday activations, and an overarching equestrian theme. He’s between two names: Derby Chevy Chase or Paddock Chevy Chase.
Horse trailers will serve 12 beers on tap, plus wine and liquor. Walsh also plans to operate a whiskey bar in a converted 1976 Airstream—a rare find he’s personally picking up from Miami soon. Walsh is in talks with two types of local vendors—one specializing in Mexican street tacos and a sweets-and-candy store—to set up shop on-site year-round.
The main attraction will be the same old-school horse racing game found at Rehoboth Beach’s family-owned amusement park Funland, where participants roll a cue ball into a designated rack of holes. The whimsical boardwalk pastime is still manufactured in England to this day.
“They make it, ship it over, and then come over to assemble and train someone on the mechanics on how to fix it,” says Walsh, adding “it was my favorite game growing up as kid.”
The longtime Chevy Chase resident now has four of his own, ages 14 and under. Other carnival-style games will include ring toss, basketball shot, knock-the-bottle, and a claw machine. (“I don’t want to get into cornhole—it’s overplayed,” he says.)
The partially tented outdoor venue will sync up to each season. Look for a pumpkin patch come fall, fire pits to toast s’mores, a Christmas tree lot linked to a charity, and a (synthetic) ice skating rink with a curling club taking up a quarter of the space.
The prized patch of real estate will be paved and lined with artificial turf, and its food and beverage setup—modular trailers outfitted with kitchens—means the rebuild process is pretty seamless. Operating hours are TBD.
Mega D.C. restaurateur Steve Salis (Ted’s Bulletin, Kramerbooks and Afterwords Cafe, and Federalist Pig) was originally slated to take over the diner with a branch of his Sidekick bakery, but that deal fizzled out during the pandemic.
The upper Northwest stretch that hugs the border of D.C. and Maryland has undergone a welcome revitalization since 2018, when Walsh’s burger-and-beer standby the Avenue opened along with neighborhood pizza parlor Little Beast Cafe & Bistro. Last fall, the team behind Logan Circle’s Nina May brought coastal American eats to the corridor with the arrival of 80-seat Opal.
Walsh’s covered Capital Crab deck, situated in the back of the Avenue, just opened for the crustacean-picking season.