White Coffee Pot memories

June 18, 1993

Barry Levinson showed in "Diner" that "greasy-spoon" restaurants not only define neighborhoods but individual lives and changing times as well. That's why the closing of Brooklyn Park's White Coffee Pot this Sunday night robs the North Arundel neighborhood not only of a relic of 1950s Americana but also some of its lovable characters.

What will happen to Pat Carraway, for example? She was 16 when she joined the White Coffee Pot chain 30 years ago. Will she ever again be asking, "More coffee, babe?"

White Coffee Pots have been a Maryland tradition since 1932. They once numbered 33 and could be found in various parts of the state. The chain also used to sponsor a softball team of the same name. It was so good it made it to the Amateur Softball Association's World Series in the 1950s.

All this is now gone. When the Brooklyn Park eatery closes, only two branches will remain -- one in Randallstown, the other at the Erdman Shopping Center in Baltimore City.

This is a sad but familiar story of changing tastes and preferences.

With nationwide hamburger, pizza and taco chains taking over as middle-America's chefs, once-popular regional eateries are disappearing.

White Tower, a 1920s precursor of McDonald's, is just one example. It once had 230 outlets between Manhattan and Milwaukee. Now only one remains -- a 17-seat restaurant at Erdman Avenue and Belair Road in Baltimore City.

"We still do a good business with older people who live around here. We don't get much of a young crowd," White Tower's owner told a recent visitor.

The White Towers, Little Taverns and White Coffee Pots may never return but they are unlikely to be completely forgotten, either.

When the Baltimore City Life Museum begins its long-awaited expansion shortly, the famous White Tower No. 8, which used to stand at Howard and Centre streets, will be reconstructed inside.

It was "a focus of urban life 24 hours a day, seven days a week for four decades. It can be an artifact, an architectural relic, but it also can be a time capsule," museum director Nancy Brennan explained.

Not all is lost, though: Stainless-steel diners are seen as so romantic, they are making a comeback throughout the nation. Catonsville's landmark Double T Diner is an example. It plans to open a clone in Pasadena in Anne Arundel County.

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