It's lights out for the Denver Diner. After holding down the southeast corner of Speer Boulevard and West Colfax Avenue for the past thirty years, this classic cafe has called it quits...at least at its current location.
Long a haven for night owls as well as those looking for a spot for a casual morning meeting, quick lunch or comfort-food dinner, the iconic 24/7 eatery closed along with the rest of Colorado's restaurants on March 17, and didn't return until June 1, under tight restrictions on both capacity and hours — no more late-night meals after let-out, not that the bars were open late. Then on November 20, when Denver moved under Level Red guidelines that again prohibited indoor dining, the Denver Diner opted not to stay open just for patio service (it didn't have one, for starters) and to-go options.
And in early January, when Governor Jared Polis allowed dining rooms to reopen under Level Orange guidelines, the Denver Diner decided it was time to close its doors at 740 West Colfax Avenue for good. “It is with heavy hearts that we leave behind this iconic space,” says Konstantine Skordos, who's worked in the family-owned restaurant since he was a young teenager.
It was in his blood: Skordos's father, George, had moved from Greece to the United States at fourteen and took on restaurant jobs across the country. He finally settled in Denver, where in 1990 he bought one of the last locations of the local White Spot chain that got its start in the '60s. He turned it into the Colorado Cafe, then a year later renamed it the Denver Diner.
Skordos continued working at the Denver Diner as he attended culinary and hospitality school at Johnson & Wales University, and is now the general manager.
The Denver Diner has been dark before; after a fire in 2014, the family updated the space while they made repairs, and then returned to business 24/7.
The family sold the third-of-an-acre property on which the Diner Diner stands for $3.5 million in July 2018, but that's not the reason for the decision to move on, Skordos explains. The new owner had agreed to a lease extension through 2024 and generous terms until then, but “opening the business at 25 percent capacity has made it nearly impossible to survive with labor and food cost being so high,” he says.
In deciding to close rather than wait out the pandemic, Diner Diner is following some other Denver mainstays, including Racines, the Market and 20th Street Cafe. A few of Skordos's other favorites have closed, too, including 12@Madison, Euclid Hall and a neighborhood sushi bar.
Denver Diner definitely makes the favorites list of not only Denver diners, but fans across the country. Before Denver's last big concert, on March 12, Post Malone came into the restaurant alone, Skordos reports, and "picked up like $200 worth of to-go food and tipped really well."
And that wasn't all. "A plethora of celebrities frequented the Denver Diner," says Skordos. "We’ve had probably the entire Nuggets team in there before, in the James Posey era. The Stanley Cup was actually in the Denver Diner when the Avs won it. I’ve met Method Man and Redman. Billie Eilish left her credit card at the diner."
Pre-pandemic, the Denver Diner was a landmark you could count on day and night. "What I think my restaurant meant to a city that needed a 24/7 hangout, it was a place to sober up after the bars, it was a place you could go and feel right at home," says Skordos. "With our amazing waitstaff, you never felt out of place. It was a place you could trust to have good food no matter the time. It was a place where if you had a terrible night...we could turn your night around.
"It was the most diverse customer base I’ve seen for a restaurant," he continues. "At one table we'd have police officers enjoying their food, and at another table we’d have some young adults reeking like weed. We would have judges and criminals sitting right next to each other at the counter. We would have celebrities, normal people, tourists all under one roof. ... In the end, I always found it amazing how people can set aside their differences so they could dine with us."
And they'll be able to do so again some day, somewhere...although Skordos doesn't know where the Denver Diner will land next. For now, it's enough to remember what this one meant to Denver.
"I’ll never forget the place, and I’ll make sure nobody else does, either," he says. "We may be gone for now, but not forever. We will be back, Denver, better than ever."
See our "24 Hours at the Denver Diner" slideshow.