Over the holiday weekend, a fire badly damaged one of Chicago’s most-venerable late-night diners. Flames tore through the Diner Grill on Christmas Eve in the city’s North Center neighborhood, as firefighters and police converged on the scene around 11:30 p.m. on Saturday.
No one was hurt, as no one was inside the building at the time, said owner Arnold DeMar. Christmas Day is the only day the 77-year-old restaurant—regularly open 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week—is closed, and employees were already gone for the holiday. DeMar said the back room—where the fire appears to have started—was destroyed.
It could take two months, but the 80-year-old vowed to rebuild. “Of course we will; we’ve been there for 70 years,” DeMar said. He added that the fire department officials told him the fire’s cause didn’t appear suspicious. DeMar’s daughter called him with the news and witnesses reported severe damage to the diner.
Diner Grill opened in 1939. The restaurant is known for greasy spoon items like “The Slinger” (two hamburger patties, two sunnyside up eggs, cheese, hash browns, onions, smothered with chili and a side of toast). Finishing off a Slinger plate would earn patrons a certificate of completion. Restaurant industry folks—even those at fine-dining spots like Alinea—would crowd the counter after hours and bar patrons would scarf down hash browns and burgers during the wee hours to absorb alcohol or to just get a no-frills meal.
Diner Grill was a quintessential Chicago experience, a tiny dive that remained beloved. DeMar said they won’t make any radical improvements when they rebuild. “The design—that’s what made it what it is,” he said. “We’re just going to restore it as it was.”
Another fire struck the neighborhood fixture back in 2008. DeMar said that was just a grease fire, and the damage wasn’t as extensive, as ownership rebuilt. “We miss all the customers and we’ll be glad to take care of them when we’re back,” DeMar said. Here are some photos of the fire’s aftermath.
Despite the sad news, DeMar said he and his family are holding up all right. It may take two months to rebuild, as DeMar said, so in the meantime reminisce. Take a look at Eater Chicago’s photo gallery taken of Diner Grill from back in 2013.