The bartenders at Hank Dietle’s Tavern know what their customers drink.
A regular will pull up to the white building and find a cold beer cracked open and ready when they walk in.
Amid rapid redevelopment in White Flint, the tavern with a porch that overlooks Rockville Pike remains a steady and beloved, no-frills fixture of camaraderie and community.
But the view from that porch is changing; the tallest building in Montgomery County sits just a quarter-mile to the north. A city of offices, residences, restaurants and shops will grace the skyline across the street in coming years.
“It’s the last of its kind,” said Geno Duvall, 58, who started sneaking into Dietle’s six months before reaching legal drinking age in the early 1970s. “This is the last dive bar around. People get hooked on this place.”
History on the Pike
Constructed in 1916, the building first housed a general store, with two gas pumps outside. It was owned and operated by Edward Offutt; he and his family lived in a house next door, now home to Addie’s Restaurant.
Rockville Pike was rural at that time, said Mary Katherine Offutt Stubbs, 73, Offutt’s only child. The family owned about three acres and sold groceries, meat, animal feed, beer and candy.
Offutt sold the business in 1946.
Stubbs, who lives in Gaithersburg, rarely travels Rockville Pike these days. Traffic is bad. The house is no longer home.
“Every time I go down the road, it’s just like going home,” Stubbs said. “And it’s never home again.”
Hank Dietle’s opened in the 1950s and has been a staple of the White Flint community since. The tavern’s beer and wine license is numbered 001.
The tavern was predominantly a men’s place in the early years, said John Eric Hovde, 64, of Rocky Ridge. Hovde started working full time at the tavern in what he deems the glory years — 1970 to 1980.
“It’s been the scene of fights and affairs,” Hovde said. “This is where on holidays like Thanksgiving all the men would go because their wives had chased them out of the house while they were trying to cook.”
The actual bar in the tavern predates the building, Hovde said. In the 1940s, a fire destroyed the original bar. So, the owner at the time — prior to Hank Dietle — traveled to Baltimore to buy a “new” bar. He found one about 100 years old, Hovde said.
The bar was sawed down to fit where it sits today.
The metal diamond-plate floor on which the bar sat was worn down from people standing, bending their elbows at the bar and chatting to their neighbors.
Rockville Pike today
Stubbs sold the land in 1988. Teimourian Bahman of Bethesda purchased the land — home to Dietle’s and Addie’s Restaurant — in 1990 for $1.3 million, according to Maryland state records.
Tony Huniak, who began going to the tavern in the 1970s, purchased Dietle’s in the 1990s to save the neighborhood bar from closing.
Throughout the years, Hank Dietle’s has become a bit of anomaly in the White Flint area. A step inside confirms it has not changed its decor to keep up with the latest trends. Drinkers have three choices: Beer, wine or water. Food? Chips. (The bar plans to start serving meals in coming months). A juke box, a few video games and two pool tables fill out the room.
But change in the neighborhood around the bar is creeping closer.
In 2011, Montgomery County Planning Board approved three developments along the Pike: North Bethesda Market II, North Bethesda Gateway and Mid-Pike Plaza. North Bethesda Market, the tallest building in the county, houses Whole Foods, LA Fitness and Brio, among other stores and restaurants. It’s just three blocks north of Dietle’s.
The second phase of the project includes 414 residential units and storefronts. The second features 666,110 square feet of residential space and 1,034131 square feet of non-residential space, including office space and a hotel. And the last includes 1,725 residential units and 1.5 million square feet of office, retail and hotel space.
In November, the board received a presentation about the redevelopment of White Flint Mall, which sits caddy-corner from Dietle’s.
The 45.3-acre mall proposal includes a village-like setup, including office, retail and residential space. A sketch plan shows tree-lined paths weaving between buildings. Total redevelopment of the mall will cover 5.2 million square feet, including 2,500 residential units, 1 million square feet of office space, 1 million square feet of retail and a 300-room hotel.
Developers submitted an application Feb. 15.
Then and nowWhite Flint’s future is a far cry from the past of this one-room, nearly 100-year-old building housing the neighborhood’s beloved tavern.
Huniak prefers his patrons tell the story of the bar; after all, they’re the ones who return day after day, week after week, year after year.
Dietle’s patrons tend to connect. Got a problem with your plumbing at home? Well, there’s a regular with the know-how to fix it. Need help laying a patio? A patron owns a masonry saw.
“It was brick layers and steelworkers and the guys painting the roads rubbing shoulders with the Ph.D.’s from [National Institutes of Health] and published authors,” Hovde said. “You didn’t come in there acting like a jerk. You didn’t come in there acting like anyone else was beneath you.”
And the feeling carries today. Tony Ridder of Bethesda started popping into Dietle’s about three years ago and said he immediately felt at home. His Texas folk music band used to play the tavern on weekends.
Dietle’s always is on the agenda when guests visit Ridder.
“I say, ‘Do you want to see something close that’s been here almost as long as the Washington Monument?’” Ridder said.
And, despite a whirlwind of construction that soon will be on both sides of Rockville Pike, Dietle’s isn’t going anywhere.
“We’ve got to keep it open,” Huniak said. “For sentimental reasons.”