Word of Mouth

Reader: When Tom's Closes, Where Will I Go at 3 in the Morning?

Reader: When Tom's Closes, Where Will I Go at 3 in the Morning?
Brandon Johnson
Tom's Diner had a date with Denver City Council tomorrow, August 26, when councilmembers were set to vote on whether the circa 1967 coffee shop at 601 East Colfax Avenue should be declared a historic landmark. But then the community members who'd filed an application for historic designation pulled it, and the vote was canceled.

That means that Tom Messina, who's run Tom's Diner in a former White Spot for over two decades, and bought the place for $800,000 in 2004, will be able to close a sale of his property for a reported $4.8 million; the new owners plan to build an eight-story apartment complex on the land, and preservationists are still urging them to incorporate the diner building into the project. But the developers could instead decide to remove Tom's from the property.

While council has now been cut out of this controversy, it remains a hot topic in town.

Says Nick:
 It should have never been an issue, the dude has every right to sell his property. Even if it's for some stupid ass apartment complex. The government never had the right to get involved in this, like everything else they do.
Asks Joe: 
When Tom's closes, where will I go at 3 a.m.?
Responds JT:
I’ll miss it. I took every out-of-town guest I ever had there, often fresh from the airport. But the owner has every right to sell it.
Notes Ian:
Thankful that the Nostalgia Police gave up on this one. It's insane to force a greasy spoon to keep serving greasy food just to preserve a belated example of Googie. If it were built in 1935 as a pioneer of the style, then maybe it would have some historic value. But Tom's was built in the '60s as a throwback. And Googie is hideous.
Replies Jake: 
Tom's has served as an important part of the cultural identity of that part of our city for a long long time. Virtually everyone who lives or has lived here have ties to that place, and identify it as integral to the character of the area. Also it serves as a place where low income people can get a meal, and offers an environment where people who are homeless can get a cup of coffee/get out of the cold, etc. Yeah, Tom has a right to sell it, but given how much the place has been integrated into the fabric of the community, there should be an agreement to maintain a degree of what makes this place what it is.
Suggests Stephen: 
The latest dust-up between the preservation community and the business/developer class has an air of irony. Although the use of long span heavy timbers to create a dramatic roofline is not common in this era, it is entirely possible to replicate at a different location and even at a different scale, on the tradition of a classic diner. All parties could then have their cake and eat it, too.
And, of course, any conversation about Denver growth includes comments about transplants, like this from Mike:
That’s all Colorado has become with all of these douchebag transplants - greed over history, greed over neighborhood integrity, greed over everything.
No matter what council had decided about Tom's Diner, Messina had already said that he planned to close the place. Now he's free to do so, though no date has yet been set.

In the meantime, night owls are figuring out their next course of action. Pete's Kitchen? McCoy's? And while preservationists hope to save some part of Tom's, they're also focusing on the next fight: the old Olinger chapel, which has also been recommended for historic designation over its owner's wishes. Denver City Council will be voting on that over the next few weeks, unless that application is pulled, too.

Have you been to Tom's Diner lately? Will you go before it closes? What's your late-night go-to spot? Post a comment or email [email protected]
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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun