Late Night Food: Chicago’s Diner / Dinner Grill
We’re at Ten Cat, and a gent walks into the bathroom. Nothing new there, but we’re sitting in the back in the wine-barrel chairs and we’ve got a view of the scene and we notice it. And we notice it because when he comes out, he’s wearing a kilt — a full-blown, red wool kilt. What the hell?
A few minutes later a woman in a dress pops into the back looking for the bathroom. We direct her to the front. Uneventful, but she’s wearing some sort of sexy Judy Jetson dress that’s orange with zippers that seem designed to give access to both her breasts and her hips. Odd again. I love this bar.
When I checked in on Foursquare, the review that caught my eye said this: “A chill place to grab a drink and go back in time.” A perfect review in 12 words. A good bar is a rare and wonderful thing, but what makes a visit to Ten Cat great is stopping at the Diner Grill afterward (spelled “Dinner” Grill on some signs).
“How long have you been working here?” Mark asks the guys working the griddle at Diner Grill.
“Me? Twelve years.” The younger guy has been there for five.
“Do you remember the time, it was a few years ago, when the police raided this place because one of the guys eating here had pulled out a gun on the El?”
“Oh yeah, I remember that.”
“I was sitting next to the guy,” Mark says.
“Yeah, didn’t he have a shotgun in his duffel bag?”
“Yes — that’s right.”
“Yeah, you don’t want customers pulling guns out inside. ‘Course it’s a lot worse if they pull them out first, then enter the place. That happens too.” He smiles and turns his attention back to the griddle.
A few more people enter, and they’ve been here before. The gents in the group order Slingers after enough drunken coercing, boasting, and shaming has taken place. A Slinger is a pile of hash browns and fried onions with 2 cheeseburger patties on top, topped with two eggs and a heavy helping of chili. It’s a mess. They’re a mess. This place is fantastic.
In 2008, Diner Grill shut down temporarily (most likely because of health code violations), and the Chicagoist wrote, “If Diner Grill has closed, it closes another chapter in this city’s long history of greasy spoons … Diner Grill stayed open as the neighborhood evolved, never changing, thriving like a cockroach at night.”
We finish our food and don’t want to leave — it’s too interesting to walk away from. But we eventually leave. There’s a woman in a blue dress absolutely mortified to be in this place sitting at the end of the counter. She can’t believe her drunken boyfriend has taken her here. She shields her face in embarrassment, not knowing there’s nothing she can possibly do that hasn’t already been done before at Diner Grill.
The hot air hits us as we walk out. We have bellies full of drink that have just been satiated with greasy diner food. They need to make a movie about this place, we decide, something like The Parking Lot Movie. Encapsulate this magic so that it can live forever.