So What’s With Silver Diner’s Move To Ballston, Anyway?

So What’s With Silver Diner’s Move To Ballston, Anyway?

At the intersection of Wilson and Washington Blvds sits a recently abandoned, shiny, retro-futurist building. A sign is draped over its front bearing the words ‘We’ve moved’ in big white letters. Silver Diner, a classic breakfast establishment in the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington since 1996, has relocated. To be clear, your (probably overpriced) late-night French toast is not in any danger. Instead, your syrup-filled breakfasts are a mile down the road at a new Silver Diner in Ballston.

Silver Diner announced the opening of a restaurant in Ballston, one mile from its former location, more than five years ago. While original plans involved keeping both sites open, the company announced that its diner in Clarendon would shut its doors after the county approved plans to redevelop the block where the diner existed. The new plans would allow the development of a hotel where the old Silver Diner building is now, alongside several other proposals for adjacent lots.

The Clarendon location first opened more than 23 years ago and has been a staple for family breakfast outings and young adults’ midnight meals ever since. However, this isn’t Silver Diner’s first move. It is not a stand-alone restaurant at all. In fact, the regional chain has 20 locations throughout the Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia areas. It should be clear that this location change does not mean much for the company as a whole. Its Clarendon staff, as well as its proudly-advertised farm-to-table menu full of classic American Diner food, will remain as is.

The Ballston Silver Diner features some aesthetic differences from its old location, though. While maintaining its booths, reflective decor, checkered tile flooring, graphic posters and other symbols commonly associated with a classic 1950s diner, the Ballston diner is now equipped with an upscale art deco feel instead of a family diner vibe. The decor seems closer to the setting for a date night than a Sunday morning breakfast with your family. And, in a heartbreaking turn of events, those beloved but inconsistent jukeboxes are nowhere to be found.

Now on the first level of a high rise just across the street from Ballston Quarter, Silver Diner’s new location is in stark contrast to the small-town diner feel its previous location provided. Upon the new location’s opening, commentary from local newspapers and online forums consistently mentioned that the Ballston Quarter did not seem fitting for a diner, or that diners are not usually on the first floor of a lower structure. That is simply not true.

In Arlington specifically, a diner as part of a high-rise building might have been out of place until now—other diners like Bob & Edith’s, the former Linda’s Cafe and the Metro 29 Diner have all been standalone buildings. Across the country, this is not the case at all. New York City is famous for its diner culture, which consists of ground-level or basement diners. In fact, most American metropolises have ground-floor diners in high-rise buildings.

This is a style that is often adopted in high-density areas to accommodate the general lack of space. With parts of the area reaching a population density of nearly 97,000 people per square mile (similar to that of Harlem, in New York City), Ballston is one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the country.

Geographically speaking, most of Arlington is suburban, and many of its residents work hard to keep it that way. That is why so many of the diners in the area have a suburban diner atmosphere. However, Arlington is urbanizing quickly. Dense areas like Pentagon City and the Ballston-Rosslyn Corridor, which is home to both the present and former Silver Diner locations, feel like busy city blocks rather than quiet suburban neighborhoods. It is only sensible that the owners of Silver Diner would key into this and act accordingly.

Additionally, for urban areas to exist, there needs to be workers. More than 30,000 people work in Ballston, and roughly one in three of those workers regularly eat out for lunch. A Silver Diner location in Ballston offers a huge new market previously unavailable in Clarendon.

This otherwise seemingly insignificant shift in one diner’s location indicates one thing: business owners are ditching the small-town vibe that Arlington has held onto for so long. Instead, it is being replaced with an urban-focused feel as development in the county continues to boom.

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About the Contributor
Elijah Dale, Head Editor
Elijah is a senior heading into his fourth year with The Sentry and first as Head Editor. He loves to tell you the whowhatwherewhywhenandhow, especially if there’s an investigative story behind it all. Elijah is obsessed with local urban policy, so if he’s probably reading irrelevant 200-page county budget plans or transcribing interviews. Otherwise, you might find Elijah at a local rock climbing gym, the philosophy section at a used bookstore or working at a farmer’s market. Elijah is more than excited for another year on staff!

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