Alert the Slinger faithful, it’s almost back. Diner Grill, the historic 24-hour refuge on Irving Park Road, destroyed in a fire 1 ½ years ago, will reopen soon, following additional inspections.
“It’s been a long time coming to get the final OK so we can start operating the business again,” said owner Arnold DeMar.
Co-owner and wife Sheila DeMar added, in tears, “We can finally see all our favorite customers again. We miss everybody.”
Diner Grill first opened in 1937 — 8 a.m. March 15 to be precise, according to a framed black-and-white photograph, from behind the counter, that survived the fire. Arnold’s father bought the diner in 1946.
The diner is usually closed only one day of the year, Christmas. The fire hit Christmas Eve 2016, after the few employees had left. No one was injured. Dirty combustible linen was the cause, said Arnold. One of the two streetcars that made up the diner was destroyed, but the DeMars had planned to reopen within a few months. However, city inspections required the restaurant to nearly completely rebuild. Contractor and city permit delays ensued.
Meanwhile, Arnold, 82 years old and a kidney cancer survivor who goes to dialysis three times a week, was hospitalized recently. He and Sheila spoke arm in arm at the diner one morning while waiting for what they hoped would be the final health department inspection.
The new facade, still bright white, with a big back-lit sign, reads slightly differently now. Next to the name, instead of “Play Lotto Here,” it now says, “Home of the Slinger.”
“The diner’s known for a slinger. It’s a world-famous dish,” said Arnold. “It’s hash browns — a lot of hash browns — two cheeseburgers, covered with two eggs and then the whole thing is covered with our famous homemade chili.”
Just to clarify for the slinger uninitiated, that’s two burger patties with American cheese, not cheeseburgers in buns. The dish is a Midwestern diner specialty.
“You get two pieces of white bread, and if you finish it all, you get an award that you finished the slinger at the diner,” he added.
New items will join the classic cheeseburgers and hamburgers too, including a prime rib sandwich and a Cuban sandwich.
“And we’ve added a charcoal grill, so instead of frying everything, we’ll be able to grill stuff like pork chops or steaks,” said Arnold. “Then we’re going to have a breakfast special through the week from 6 to 11 a.m., a New York strip steak with eggs, potatoes and toast for $9.99, which in today’s world is really inexpensive.”
Will diners get a certificate if they finish the breakfast special?
“No, they get a bill,” he said laughing.
The familiar green stools are gone, replaced by new red-topped stools picked out by Sheila.
“I wanted to liven it up!” she said. “I even looked for a clock that had red around it, but I couldn’t find it.”
While Diner Grill has only ever had a handful of employees, they’re all coming back, including cook/day manager Ricardo Hernandez and cook/night manager Kenny Coster
“And hopefully, if we’re really busy, we may have to add more staff,” Arnold said.
Another new sign of the times? They’re going to add GrubHub delivery.
Surprisingly, the slinger is not what he recommends for the first-time customer.
“They should order ham and eggs,” he said. “That’s what we were famous for, and back-to-basics cheeseburgers and fries, it’s our No. 1 seller. Get a double cheeseburger and fries!
What’s the first thing Sheila will have when they reopen?
“Chili!” she said.
“I’m going to have a cheeseburger,” said her husband.
“Then I’m going to have a cheeseburger too!” she added.
“Our chili is homemade. It’s not out of a can. It’s the same recipe from my father,” said Arnold.
Where did he get the recipe?
“My family had a store at Clark and Division many years ago, probably 50 or 60 years ago,” he said. “My father bought the recipe off a hooker.”
How did his father know she had a good chili recipe?
“I never asked,” said Arnold.
Diner Grill will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except Christmas.the one day they’ll close.
“We might hire someone to keep an eye out on things that day, though,” said Arnold.
Diner Grill, 1635 W. Irving Park Road., 773-248-2030