Credit: Via Pete Piringer

Updated at 11:40 a.m. Wednesday – Hank Dietle’s Tavern, a longstanding roadside bar in a North Bethesda building that’s stood more than 100 years, was destroyed by a fire early Wednesday morning, according to Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service.

A passerby called 911 at about 2:45 a.m. to report that the Rockville Pike building was in flames, MCFRS spokesman Pete Piringer said. Firefighters arrived to find heavy fire conditions and called for reinforcements.

About 75 firefighters were able to control the fire after about 15 minutes, but by then the flames had already destroyed much of the structure. Piringer said the fire caused about $500,000 in damage—$400,000 to the structure and $100,000 to contents—and the building is considered “almost a total loss.” 

Piringer said the cause of the blaze was likely discarded smoking materials that had burned undetected on the porch for some time before the fire was noticed. There were no injuries.

[Related: Hank Dietles Has Been Serving Beer in Bethesda for 99 Years]

Hank Dietle’s Tavern, at 11010 Rockville Pike, opened in the 1950s in a former general store and service station that opened in 1916, according to its website. The tavern boasted holding the first beer and wine license in the county and highlighted its pool table and live music. On its website, it suggests it’s a place for people who “complain the world is changing” too fast. “Dietle’s is pretty constant and has not changed its decor to keep up with the latest trends,” the website says. “It retains its comfortable atmosphere and is a great place to meet friends and make new ones from all walks of life.”


Where regulars once gathered at tables and on barstools, little remained Wednesday morning aside from burned rubble. Scorched pieces of equipment were strewn outside and the air smelled of singed wood and plastic. Foam from fire hoses was still on the adjacent parking lot at 10:30 a.m.

Surveying the damage, owner Tony Huniak said he hopes he’ll be able to reopen the bar, but wasn’t sure whether he would be able to do so.  

Bartender Marsha Thompson, who had driven to the bar from her Silver Spring home after hearing the news, said working at Dietle’s was the best job she ever had. She was supposed to work Wednesday.


“I’m just shocked,” she said. “It was a family here.”

Jon Rossler, who owns the Corned Beef King food truck that operates outside the tavern a few days a week, said by phone Wednesday morning that he’s still in shock after first hearing about the fire around 6:30 a.m.

“I’m really sad that it happened,” Rossler said.


Rossler said his food truck has operated outside the bar for the past two years, but it wasn’t there during the overnight fire.

“I’m still stunned, I feel real terrible for Tony,” Rossler said. “We worked the truck outside and occasionally I’d hang out there. Obviously, it’s an icon. I’d see the same faces in there all the time. When I mention it to my friends, all I’d hear is great things. They loved going to a dive bar and there’s very few left. That’s the one.”

Mark Wenner, a member of local band The Nighthawks, said he found out about the fire when he turned on his smartphone Wednesday morning and text messages started popping up about it. The band was scheduled to play at the bar on Friday night.


“It’s really a neighborhood bar for us,” Wenner said. “I personally know half the people in there. The thing that made it extra special is that it had that neighborhood feel. It was like a pub, like your hometown joint. I loved the fact that people would say ‘my father used to come here’ and things like that, that was pretty cool.”

Wenner, who lives in Kensington, said his house is close enough to Dietle’s that he could walk home from the bar. The band has been playing regular gigs there for the past couple of years. He added that he’s concerned about the local music scene if the bar doesn’t make a comeback because it was one of the few locations in the area where people could hear live rockabilly music.

Singer Belen Pifel said Wednesday morning by phone that her band, The Highballers, has performed at the bar three or four times, and has always found it to be a fun, welcoming environment.


“There was no pretense. It was just a comfortable, down-home place to be,” she said.

The Highballers played during the bar’s Rockabilly Saturday Nights, a regular event that moved to Dietle’s a few years ago after fire destroyed the Quarry House Tavern in downtown Silver Spring, where the performances previously took place. Pifel said the bar always seemed chock full of regulars who loved music and good times

“You really did get the feeling you were in a proper roadhouse,” she said.


Bethesda Beat reporters Bethany Rodgers and Andrew Melcalf contributed to this story.