It’s been more than three years since beers were served at Hank Dietle’s Tavern on Rockville Pike in North Bethesda. But with the bar’s official reopening on Friday, fans are recalling the old times and welcoming a few changes that have been made since a fire destroyed it in 2018.
The bar held its grand opening concert on Friday, hosting the southern soul band King Soul in a sold-out fundraising event.
Dietle’s was 102 years old when it burned down in a massive fire on Valentines Day 2018 due to a discarded cigarette that was lit. The bar was the first establishment in Montgomery County to receive a liquor license after Prohibition, with the license bearing the number 001.
Community members launched a variety of fundraising efforts to save Dietle’s after the fire. In September 2019, former band booker Thomas Bowes, his wife Sarah Bonner and photographer Alan Kresse signed a 10-year-lease on the property and have coordinated the rebuilding effort since then.
Tom Clifford, the lead vocalist for King Soul, told Bethesda Beat on Saturday that Dietle’s booking agent Lisa White had told them a couple months ago that the bar would be reopening, but they didn’t know the exact date. White called them in the middle of this week to book them for Friday’s opening.
“The reaction was ‘hell yeah,’ because we’ve all been waiting,” Clifford said. “And the people who have put the money and effort behind it are close friends of all of ours.”
Clifford, who grew up in the area, said he was about 17 the first time he set foot in Hank Dietle’s, and it was always an iconic landmark. As an adult he’s had beers there and played with King Soul, but said before the fire the bar wasn’t set up well for dancing.
“Before they had a lot of built-ins. The pool table had to be moved. Now the pool table is configured so that tables can be pushed back. There are no built-in tables. And I see how they can set it up for different show types in the coming years,” he said.
The shift from built-in wooden booths to all moveable tables and chairs is welcome because the seating can be moved for nighttime shows to make way for a dance floor, Clifford said.
“Before it was a cool tavern with music shoved off to the side, and now they’ve found a way to feature music without losing the outside roadhouse flair of the place. I think it’s fantastic,” he said.
Clifford added that he saw several longtime local musicians that he’s known since high school on the dance floor Friday night.
Many of the features from the old Dietle’s remain such as the pool table, pinball machine and wainscoting type of paneling. New “Hank Dietle’s Cold Beer” and Coca Cola signs outside the bar have replaced the ones destroyed during the fire.
“Probably the biggest difference is we have a few more beers on tap, with some craft brews,” Kresse said.
Dietle’s also has a wider selection of food on its menu such as sandwiches, salads and snacks, Kresse said.
Kresse said they received most of their approvals from the county in the last two weeks. In February, they were re-approved for a liquor license, which is fittingly numbered 001.
Dietle’s was scheduled to host The Rock-A-Sonics, a country and Rockabilly band, on Saturday night for another fundraiser.
As Potomac resident Damian Cevallos sat down for a beer Saturday afternoon, he remembered going to Dietle’s during the 2010 “Snowmageddon” blizzard.
“I remember Dietle’s was open. And they still had the music going and you could still hang out here. It was really awesome trudging through the snow and just knowing that Dietle’s was still open while everything else was shut down,” he said.
Michael McDonnell, a Montgomery County native, said he started going to Dietle’s around the late 1980s. He said it was one of the few bars where jeans and a dirty t-shirt were a socially acceptable form of attire.
“There was a time in my life where Bethesda had a bunch of what you would consider neighborhood bars. And then it all went upscale,” he said.
“Dietle’s was always one of those [neighborhood bars], and it’s great to see it coming back in the same style.”
Dan Schere can be reached at email@example.com