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Hollywood Diner opens its doors again

With a new look, new staff and some new menu items, the Baltimore landmark Hollywood Diner has reopened after being closed during January.

Owner Cheryl Townsend opened the diner last March with hopes of drawing in downtown lunch customers from City Hall, courthouses, Mercy Medical Center and other nearby businesses. But by September, customers were sparse and she considered closing.

Now, Townsend said, she just wants people to know they’re open again.

“We want to see our old customers back here,” she said Tuesday afternoon as she closed down the diner for the day.

The diner officially reopened on Feb. 1, but with some changes she says will improve the overall dining experience.

And with 30 to 40 customers per day, Townsend said she’s pleased with how it’s been going so far.

“Business has picked up tremendously,” she said, especially at breakfast. But it’s still not back to where it was at their first month open, when it was hard to find a seat during lunch.

The Hollywood Diner was featured in Barry Levinson’s 1982 movie “Diner,” which is set in Baltimore in the 1950s. After filming the movie, he donated the building — which is shaped like a trailer — to the city, and it had gone through various owners over the years.

Part of the draw was this history and the pictures of silver-screen movie stars and old posters. But the diner’s age had begun to show, and Townsend said she thought that reflected negatively on customers.

So during the month they were closed she did some redecorating. The walls are now covered with old records and album covers, such as the “Saturday Night Fever” and “Footloose“ soundtracks, Stevie Wonder’s “Hotter than July” and Eddie Rabbitt’s “Horizon.”

She has taken down some of the old, tattered posters and added some more color to the walls. She also is inviting guests to sign one wall with marker.

Townsend has hired marketing agency KelEvents to help spread the word that the Hollywood Diner is back in business.

She also hired two new waitresses, having not been pleased with the two who worked with her last year.

Some new menu items have been added as well, based on customer requests.

On the breakfast menu, she added fried fish and grits, a burrito breakfast wrap and buttermilk-fried chicken wings with a sweet potato waffle. The diner now serves breakfast all day.

The lunch menu now includes a barbeque bacon cheddar burger, a “Dixie Dog” and a chili-and-cheese hotdog.

Townsend said people have been surprised to walk by and see that the diner is open.

“Now they find out ‘Oh! She’s not closed,’” she said. “Word of mouth has been traveling.”

The Hollywood Diner joins the restaurant at the Woman’s Industrial Exchange, which reopened in December, and Werner’s, which is scheduled to reopen in March, as iconic Baltimore eateries that have be given second chances.