In 1957, when the Towson Diner opened, Elvis was belting out "Jailhouse Rock," the Soviets launched Sputnik and Buddy Deane introduced his dance-and-music show on Baltimore television.
Only the York Road diner is left -- sort of. Over the years, its vintage stainless-steel-and-glass exterior was replaced with an unremarkable stone-and-stucco facade. The name also was changed to the nondescript Towson Inn Restaurant.
Now, owners Peter and Sam Kourtsounis are in pursuit of the past. This summer, they plan to demolish the restaurant and build a new version remarkably like the original but with shinier stainless steel, colorful neon and glass-block edges.
"We're bringing back a feel of old Towson," said Kensington architect Tom Wiley of the $1 million Towson Diner project, which calls for a 4,000-square-foot, 140-seat diner on the same foundation.
Diners are hot stuff as the interest in Americana increases.
The sleek structures seem to be everywhere around the area, from the granddaddy Double T Diner in Catonsville to Ralphie's Diner in Timonium and the New Towne Diner in Reisterstown. The new Towson version is expected to complement the county seat's business district.
"It will be a major reinvestment in the York Road corridor," said land-planning consultant Bill Monk.
The downside is that the restaurant will be closed for at least four months during the work, meaning a loss of business. "It's a little bit of a worry," said Peter Kourtsounis, 50, who was born and raised in Sparta, Greece, and who took over the restaurant four years ago with his brother Sam.
He hopes that people will be understanding. Indeed, the Towson Diner has had a loyal following for years.
"It's reasonably priced. It's a good place with friendly faces," said Bill Woods, a Timonium resident who was enjoying a BLT sandwich and a cup of beef vegetable soup yesterday.
Woods has been coming to the diner since 1965 and looks forward to the change.
"Anytime you can replace used with new and it looks old, that's good," he said.
The coffee is the best, patrons say. The food is fresh and portions huge. Kitchen-baked desserts are as American as apple pie and as Greek as baklava.
And not too many places offer an egg cream as well as a martini.
"I would recommend this place to anybody," said longtime waitress Charlotte Hancock, 61, mother of five and grandmother of eight, who has been at the diner since 1959. "So many nice people come in. I love what I do."
Tip: She recommends the captain's seafood platter and the turkey sandwich.
When Hancock started working at the diner, then-owner James Stratakis, who died in 1992, was two years into operating his dream.
"He thought Towson was a good area. He took a gamble," said his son, Gus Stratakis, 37, who went into the family business. "I was born and raised there. I was busing tables at 12."
In 1976, the family decided to make the exterior changes that are familiar today.
Gus Stratakis, who took over the restaurant in 1988, said he realized the eatery was dated. He, too, was contemplating a face lift for the diner when he decided to sell the restaurant to the Kourtsounises and concentrate on a commercial real estate business.
"I miss the people and the interaction with the customers," Stratakis said.
The restaurant has a small-town feel. Patrons can munch on pancakes and eggs any time of the day.
"It's nice to have a locally owned place," said Gary Adams, 46, of Rosedale, who has been a customer for years. "You get tired of trendy places."
Bill Gontrum, 82, of Towson is definitely a regular. He can be found sitting at a mauve booth or wood table two or three times a day.
"I live around the corner. It's handy," he said, drinking coffee while waiting for his lunchtime hamburger. "I seldom miss. If it quits raining, I'll probably be over for dinner."
What will happen when the diner closes temporarily?
"I don't know what I'll do," he said. "Starve, I guess."
Pub Date: 6/04/97