Hank Dietle's Tavern, a century-old Rockville fixture, destroyed by fire

A fire that destroyed a century-old tavern in Rockville early Wednesday appears to have been accidental, according to authorities. Fire investigators believe the blaze at Hank Dietle's Tavern on Rockville Pike was started by discarded smoking materials on the front porch of the building, which is a total loss.

A passerby on Rockville Pike first reported the fire at around 3 a.m. Wednesday. Hank Dietle's had closed for the night at around 1:30 a.m. Approximately 65 firefighters from around the area put out the blaze within about 15 minutes, and continued to watch for hot spots overnight. Officials estimate damage costs at around $500,000.

Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services spokesperson Pete Piringer says the discarded smoking materials likely started the blaze.

Hank Dietle's Tavern owner Tony Huniak was in shock after hearing about the fire on the radio. He was devastated when he spoke to FOX 5 reporter Annie Yu at the scene on Wednesday morning, and didn't want to show his face on camera. Huniak has owned Hank Dietle's for over 20 years, and he says it's everything he has-- but he hopes to bring it back.

"A lot of people around this whole area have a lot many memories through the years, A lot of people come through," Huniak told FOX 5. "I could use all the help I can get now. It's going to take a lot of money to rebuild."

The two-story cottage-style building that has been Hank Dietle's home was originally constructed in 1916. Decades later, it opened as Hank Dietle's Tavern in the 1950s, after a fire destroyed the establishment that preceded it in the same location. It has become a fixture in the area, and those who frequented it say Hank Dietle's was a place where everyone was welcome.

Huniak still had the liquor license on the wall -- No. 001 -- the first post-prohibition license granted in Montgomery County. He wants to rebuild the bar, but it is not clear what his insurance will cover.

There were traffic delays in the area for several hours of the morning due to fire department activity at the scene, but Rockville Pike has since reopened.