Ed Debevic’s, the famously raucous retro diner starring singing, dancing waitstaff, returned to Chicago last week, six years after its original restaurant was demolished in River North. Now located in Streeterville and owned by Bravo Restaurants, the new Ed’s still features diner food served by theatrically rude waiters in a shiny faux-’50s setting with lots of chrome, neon, and sassy signage.
The menu revives many of the classics from the old days, including chili, Ed’s Mom’s Meatloaf Sandwich, and the World’s Smallest Sundae, but it makes a few concessions to the 21st century, namely an Impossible burger. The servers still dress in vintage splendor with buzz cuts, Buddy Holly glasses, and coonskin caps, but times being what they are, they’re less touchy-feely than in days of yore, and instead of dancing on the tables, they’re encouraged to use special ledges and a runway that extends the length of the main dining room.
Originally founded in 1984 at 640 N. Wells Street, Ed’s was the brainchild of Rich Melman, co-founder of mammoth restaurant group Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. Designed to evoke the roadside diners around Route 66, the chain expanded to Wisconsin, Los Angeles, New York City, Las Vegas, and even Japan, before the chain was eventually sold.
Ed’s was also known for hiring aspiring actors who were unafraid to bully and banter with diners. Former employees include a number of now-famous faces, including Friends star David Schwimmer and actor Lamorne Morris of FOX series New Girl. Celebrities dined there too — Usher, Ludacris, Donny Osmond, Rosie O’Donnell, and Goldie Hawn were all spotted in the glittery vinyl booths, and Barack and Michelle Obama once rented out the restaurant to host a birthday party for one of their daughters.
Rumors of the diner’s revival have circulated for years, fueled by occasional clues like a 2017 building permit and a 2019 liquor license application. Now, much to the delight of Chicago’s nostalgia fiends (and chagrin of unsuspecting tourists), diners again can partake in the merry madness of Ed’s. It’s open now.
Ed Debevic’s, 159 E. Ohio Street, Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday and Monday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.