Wisconsin's Retro Diners and Drive-Ins

What do the names Frank, Katie, Monty, Rudy, Ardy, Ed, and Gus have in common? In the 1950’s, even if life wasn’t really simpler and music wasn’t really easier to dance to, there’s a good chance that food really was tastier and you really were on a first name basis with the guy or gal behind the counter. And so, these great first names in Wisconsin food and fun have gone to great lengths to recapture those glory days of the better burger and the creamier milkshake at their 1950’s style diners and drive-ins.

Frank’s Diner in Kenosha, a registered historical landmark and the oldest continuing lunch car diner in the US, has been featured on the Food Network, not only because of some amazing food (daily specials include classic American comfort food like meatloaf and tuna casserole!) but also because of Frank’s motto, “Order what you want; eat what you get!

One of Wisconsin’s most famous 50’s diners is Miss Katie’s Diner, serving her famous rib sandwich (among many other mouth watering treats) for over 64 years! (No, Miss Kitty had the saloon in Dodge City but Miss Katie has the diner in Milwaukee). Famous first names visiting Katie’s of late include Hillary, Michelle, and the cast of the classic TV show, “Happy Days”….you know the food and fun must be fantastic to draw such a high brow crowd!

Another big name in great diners is ‘Monty. Monty’s Blue Plate Diner has been voted the Best of the Best in Madison for several years running. Monty’s is the “quintessential neighborhood gathering spot” and is unique among 50’s style diners in that the folks at Monty’s serve breakfast all day (the Sweet Potato Hash is a local favorite!) and offer a large vegan and gluten-free menu.

The name ‘Rudy’ is pretty popular in La Crosse and Sparta thanks to the roller skating carhops who take your order and deliver your meal. Also attracting big crowds at Rudy’s Drive-In is the addition of Cruisin’ Nights where you can get a free root beer float just for showing up in your classic car or bike! Poodle skirts and leather letter jackets are not required.

Skating carhops also “rock ‘n roll your order” at Ardy & Ed’s Drive-In in Oshkosh where old-fashioned soda fountain favorites have been served on the banks of beautiful Lake Winnebago since 1948. You can visit this “blast from the past” by boat or by car to enjoy a Jumbo Perch Basket with a side of Mini Mozzarella Logs for lunch before visiting the gift shop to pick up a nostalgic souvenir or T-shirt.

Why don’t people name their kids ‘Gus’ anymore? After all, it’s a grand old name and a great old drive-in! Home of the heavenly Heavy Chevy and Ford Burgers, Gus’s Drive-In is located in East Troy, close to Alpine Valley and minutes from Lake Geneva. Gus offers frozen custard instead of ice cream with a different flavor-of-the-day everyday; Greek gyros and Italian meatballs add an international flair to the menu. Like Rudy, Gus honors the era when cars were king by sponsoring regular Cruisin’ Nights.

So, whatever your name is, if you love Lucy, Elvis, and the good old days, put on your saddle shoes and twist on over to one of Wisconsin’s 1950’s themed diners or drive-ins. Tell them Linda sent you.

For a more complete list of these nifty 50’s hot spots and other Wisconsin restaurants, visit our dining directory.

This entry was posted in Dining Restaurants