Saturday night, I pulled out the blue sports coat in anticipation of dinner at one of those new happenin' and trendy nightspots.

With much difficulty, my girlfriend and I located a parking spot near the King of Prussia Mall and entered a jammed restaurant lobby with a breezy draft. After being told that the wait for a table would top an hour and might be as long as an a hour and a half, we split.

Instead, we drove west on Route 422 for a Saturday night dinner at the Limerick Diner. As a nice bonus, the whole diner is non-smoking and we were seated immediately in a comfortable booth.

Diners and bars are the near last refuge of smokers. I understand that and often don't mind sharing space with smokers, but if given the opportunity I prefer to eat in a smoke-free environment.

We go to diners quite often. I love the uniforms and appreciate being called "Hun." I've never been served a meal in a diner that I didn't have trouble finishing.

Diners are often quirky places to grab a bite. The Limerick Diner offers 29 side dishes. The menu includes Waldorf Salad and sweet potato fries (both were excellent).

The Birmingham Grille was a former trucker's delight on Route 202 before it was trucked someplace else. Think about that. They just picked it up and took it away. The same thing happened to Minella's in Wayne, although they rebuilt a conventional building.

The Birmingham Grille posted the easy to change menu on index cards. The cards were hung by clothespins from a clothesline that ran behind the counter.

I like diners where you can watch the staff toast your bread or pour the orange juice - it just seems more like home.

Not many places except diners will welcome a customer who spends as little as a buck on a bottomless cup of coffee, and I've never received harsh treatment in a diner for simply taking my time.

Then there is that joy of sitting at the counter on a cushioned stool that spins with all that action swirling around you. You've got no idea who will sit in the next seat and whether they will be talkative or bury themselves in that day's newspaper. You can tell a lot about someone who will pass up a seat at the counter and wait for a seat at a booth.

I also love the specials. It always makes me feel that I've arrived on the right day when one of my favorites is listed.

And then there's my true fascination with diners - the hours.

As a night owl, I love to eat a home-cooked breakfast of bacon, two sunny side up eggs, homefries and toast. For those of you who aren't quite familiar, that's a #3 on the menu at the neon-lit Vale Rio on Nutt Road.

Last week, I ate at the Vale Rio on the way home from work at 2 a.m. From the time that I entered the door until my meal came, I only waited five minutes. I was in no hurry, but I was hungry.

Bob Dylan spent hundreds of creative hours penning song lyrics during the middle of the night in NYC diners. Instead I often use these nighttime refuges as a way to mellow out.

A Denny's at 2:30 a.m. on a Saturday night is often a loud, raucous affair better enjoyed by college students. I enjoy the sometimes lack of conversation of a diner that allows me to reflect on the day or plan the next.

And where else does one get a hot roast beef sandwich and mashed potatoes at all hours of the day or night. Being able to eat breakfast during the dinner hour is a real treat.

My girlfriend gave me the book "Diners of Pennsylvania" by Brian Butko and Kevin Patrick. All of Pennsylvania's "real" diners are listed.

Diner buildings that weren't trucked to the spot in one piece and feature huge windows for viewing the nearby highway aren't included. If the mostly steel building isn't held together with thousands of shiny steel rivets, it probably isn't listed either. Only true diners like the 1948 Paramount Vale Rio were included.

The book is a great starting point on a journey to discover the joy of consuming homemade gravy on cranberry sauce which is something that those who frequent McDonald's will never quite understand.

So, we spent "date night" in a diner. We got a great meal with plenty of food, and had enough left over to buy a Sunday paper and settle in with a half gallon of ice cream by 8:30 on Saturday night.

I hope my girlfriend will forgive me for such an exciting evening.

Bill Rettew, Jr., can be reached at

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