After closing for the winter, the Nite Owl Drive-In, 830 E. Layton Ave., opened for its 66th season today.
The iconic diner with the asymmetrical sign on the roof calls itself the Home of The Jumbo Burger and features both a walk-up window and a small attached diner.
The menu includes classic diner fare such as hamburgers, cheeseburgers, a Swiss and mushroom burger, grilled cheese, fish dinner, fries, onion rings, shakes and malts.
Nite Owl accepts cash only, but there is an ATM at the gas station next door.
Chris Roepke is the third generation owner of the family business. His grandfather was the original owner, then his dad and uncle managed it for decades until he took over operations about eight years ago. His dad, John, is 74 and still works there as a cook.
Milwaukee’s Mark Lewandowksi was among a rush of people who came out to reunite with the Nite Owl.
"I’ve been coming here since high school. That was a long time ago," says Lewandowski. "In the winter, I go to Kopp’s, but they have a better burger here."
The diner is cozy and retro cute with black-and-white-tiled floors, booths, tables with red-cushioned ice cream chairs and an old potbelly stove that was originally in a turn-of-the-century caboose.
"My dad always liked that in here," says Roepke, who started working at the Nite Owl when he was 10.
The walls are covered with vintage signage, old newspaper articles and signed photos. At one time, there was an autographed Elvis Presley photo, but it was stolen about eight years ago.
Apparently, in 1977 when Presley came to perform in Milwaukee, his plane landed in the airport across the street and he noticed the Nite Owl’s neon sign. He then ordered $75 worth of food and sent back the autographed photo.
"It’s heartbreaking that it's gone, but maybe someday it will find its way back," says Roepke. "And that’s why everything on the wall is screwed down now."
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