Lou Mitchell’s, the iconic downtown diner that’s served Chicagoans for nearly a century, reopened its dining room to customers on at 6 a.m. Wednesday for the first time since city officials shut down indoor dining on October 30. The scene at the restaurant is quite different than before the pandemic when crowds packed into the unfussy dining room and patrons formed long lines outside 565 W. Jackson Boulevard. Still, some fans have ventured out for an abbreviated menu of hearty breakfast and lunch classics, according to an employee.
Lou’s, a relic of greasy-spoon Americana, was the first restaurant in the city to serve breakfast all day, according to its website. Originally founded in 1923, it preceded two nearby landmarks often associated with the diner: Chicago Union Station, which opened in 1925, and the start of Route 66, established the following year. Its location has earned the diner a reputation as a haven for road trippers eager for strong cups of black coffee and pleasant-yet-businesslike service.
Due to the pandemic, staff have culled the menu to focus the most popular items, including omelets, waffles, and pancakes. There’s no word if customers can expect the complimentary Milk Duds that formerly were a staple of the Lou Mitchell’s experience.
Diners face many of the same problems dive bars do during the pandemic. They lack patios, large windows, and rely on the on-premise experience. Lou Mitchell’s set up sidewalk seating along Jackson Boulevard during the pandemic.
During its 98-year history, many famous patrons have perched on stools along the diner’s long counters or slid into the narrow brown booths that run down the center of the restaurant, including politicians, athletes, and actors. Federal officials in 2006 added the restaurant to the National Register of Historic Places and a 2011 episode of Top Chef featured late owner Heleen Thanasouras-Gillman as a guest judge for a challenge that required contestants to work “the hull” — the kitchen’s high-pressure egg station — for 20 minutes.
After more than a year of painful pandemic setbacks and closures for Chicago restaurants and bars, every reopening is meaningful — especially for longtime institutions such as Lou’s. Now that the restaurant’s pandemic winter hiatus is past, fans can go inside for eggs and nostalgia.
Lou Mitchell’s, 565 W. Jackson Boulevard, Open 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.