Credit: Joe Zimmermann

Three weeks after Hank Dietle’s was heavily damaged by a fire, owner Tony Huniak is gearing up to reopen.

Huniak said Tuesday he doesn’t know how long the process will take—as rebuilding the bar will depend on permitting and county approval—but he hopes to reopen in the coming months, possibly by this summer.

Kiti Gartner, who managed music events at Dietle’s and is helping with the reopening, said they plan to rebuild the Rockville Pike bar as it had been before the Feb. 14 fire.

“Our main thing is making it exactly as it used to be,” she said as she and Huniak stood in the bar, which had been cleaned and cleared of most debris remaining after the blaze.

The historic North Bethesda bar closed after an early morning fire allegedly started by a simmering cigarette that was discarded in a flower pot on the front porch. The building had stood for more than 100 years, and famously holds the first liquor license in Montgomery County.

Before 3 a.m., a passerby had seen flames from the road and called 911. It took 75 firefighters about 15 minutes to control the flames, but by then close to $500,000 in damage had already been done to the structure and contents of the building.

After the flames rendered the bar almost a total loss, there was an outpouring of support from patrons and musicians who’d played at the bar. Locals took to social media to share their favorite memories there, and many came by the bar themselves to help clean up the mess. A GoFundMe page, which Gartner manages, has raised close to $15,000 in 19 days.

Even the morning of the fire, as Huniak paced through the ashes of his roadside bar, he said his hope was to reopen, though he wasn’t sure whether he could. Now, things are looking more optimistic, he said, though the process is still a daunting one.

Huniak said he and his architect met Monday with Montgomery County planners, who approved the preliminary plan to repair the bar, rather than considering it a complete rebuild. Gartner said the first step will be replacing the electrical and plumbing systems, though they’ll need to wait for permits to clear first.

Since the fire, volunteers have been coming to Dietle’s almost every day, Gartner said. The interior has been mostly cleared, with the walls stripped away and ashen furniture removed. She said she and Huniak have been overwhelmed by the generosity and support of the community. Gartner said people have promised to donate benches, table tops, doors and windows. One man is remaking the iconic Dietle’s “COLD BEER” sign exactly as it had been. The freestanding sign had melted from the heat of the flames.

Gartner, who is also a Western swing musician who’s played at Dietle’s, said she stepped up to spearhead the renovation because she felt “old things are worth saving.” She said the community support was “insane” and is what’s allowing them to go forward against the odds.

“The more people that want to help, the more [the plan to reopen] goes forward,” she said.

Gartner and Huniak are planning to hold a fundraiser with several bands that used to play at Dietle’s sometime in April.

In the meantime, Quarry House Tavern, another beloved neighborhood bar that closed in 2015 after a fire, has been restored to its former glory and is opening again this weekend in downtown Silver Spring.

Volunteers have cleared the inside of Dietle’s and boarded up the windows in the weeks since the fire. Credit: Joe Zimmermann