Kenny Rogers, whose current skin tone and form suggest he’s spending too much time near a rotisserie, broke the good news at a hoteliers’ convention at the Woodley Park Sheraton last week. Two years earlier, just up the street in Cleveland Park, the eatery bearing the crossover crooner’s devalued name turned off its neon signs. “No drive-thru, no future,” explained officials of the Florida-based chain at closing time.

The chain occupied a small nook on Connecticut Avenue, but its departure left a huge hole in the city’s culinary and cultural landscape. (Boston Market? Don’t even go there.)

True Roasters aficionados—and plenty of ’em are out there, suffering quietly—know it wasn’t just the food that made the place good, though those lemon-pepper birds and sides were as good as fast food gets. And it wasn’t just the ambience, though all those fake gold and platinum albums, all those cheesy pictures on the wall (“There’s Kenny with that guy from The Dukes of Hazzard!”), and the comical music mix piped into the joint—one song by Kenny, one not by Kenny, meal after meal after meal—provided a level of kitsch that no other D.C. kitchen could match.

No, it was the total Roasters package that brought even the most self-consciously urbane locals to Cleveland Park. (Remember, Roasters remains the only fast-food chain to rate a Seinfeld story line.) Tim Russert took regular trips from NBC studios to meet the breast at Roasters. Ira Magaziner, in the midst of all that work he put into screwing up President Clinton’s first term, frequently made plans to grab a comprehensively healthy repast. And Secret Service agents loitered inside Roasters at all hours and in numbers that suggested that John Hinckley or some other crazy bird lurked nearby. All that was lost when Roasters flew the coop.

But as soon as next month, according to Rogers, Roasters will again be a victual reality inside the Beltway. And though there will be some big differences from the old format, the crassness that Roasters fans crave more than slaw itself should only be enhanced: Under the terms of the deal Roasters signed with the HFS Hotels chain, Rogers’ fine foodstuffs will hereafter only be available through kiosks that the lodging company will place in the lobbies of its lesser inns (which include Days Inns, Travelodges, and Howard Johnsons), where full room-service menus aren’t offered. So those who want to relive the Cleveland Park glory days will have to book a room at the Watergate HoJo’s. And remember to bring their own copy of “Coward of the County.”CP