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."
Molly Snyder grew up on Milwaukee's East Side and today, she lives in the Walker's Point neighborhood with her partner and two sons.
As a full time senior writer, editorial manager and self-described experience junkie, Molly has written thousands of articles about Milwaukee (and a few about New Orleans, Detroit, Indianapolis, Boston and various vacation spots in Wisconsin) that range in subject from where to get the best cup of coffee to an in-depth profile on the survivors of the iconic Norman apartment building that burned down in the '90s.
She also once got a colonic just to report on it, but that's enough on that.
Always told she had a "radio voice," Molly found herself as a regular contributor on FM102, 97WMYX and 1130WISN with her childhood radio favorite, Gene Mueller.
Molly's poetry, essays and articles appeared in many publications including USA Today, The Writer, The Sun Magazine and more. She has a collection of poetry, "Topless," and is slowly writing a memoir.
In 2009, Molly won a Milwaukee Press Club Award. She served as the Narrator / writer-in-residence at the Pfister Hotel from 2013-2014. She is also a story slam-winning storyteller who has performed with The Moth, Ex Fabula and Risk!
When she's not writing, interviewing or mom-ing, Molly teaches tarot card classes, gardens, sits in bars drinking Miller products and dreams of being in a punk band again.