Feb 9, 2024 - Business

Fire guts legendary West Loop diner Palace Grill

Photo of a boarded up diner
The Palace Grill. Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

Palace Grill owner George Lemperis wiped away tears on West Madison Street Friday, hours after a grease fire ripped through his famous diner.

Why it matters: "This is catastrophic," Lemperis tells Axios about the loss of "a true Chicago institution," where Blackhawks memorabilia and photos adorned the walls, and regulars sat at the counter while eggs and bacon sizzled on the griddle.

  • It was a place you remembered hours later because you smelled it on your clothes. But this visit, only the smell of smoke lingers.

Flashback: When Lemperis got the call late Thursday, he didn't feel a sense of urgency. He thought the Fire Department would swiftly handle the grease fire from the grill, and was hopeful he could clean up and possibly reopen by the weekend.

  • "Then I came here," says Lemperis. "I was stunned."

State of play: The restaurant suffered extensive damage, including a huge hole in the roof. It's now boarded up, and dreams of a quick recovery are gone.

Details: The restaurant has been in business for 86 years. It served Chicago politicians, athletes and city workers from the 9-1-1 Center across the street.

  • In short, it's a place everyone knows.
  • "People go out of their way to come here," Lemperis says. "People have become best friends after meeting in this restaurant."

Zoom in: When the fire marshal gave the all-clear on Thursday night, Lemperis went in and recovered all the memorabilia and photos he could, from signed Blackhawk jerseys to hockey sticks. He relocated them to his garage.

What's ahead: Lemperis isn't sure about the future and says worrying about insurance payments and rebuilding will come later.

  • "It's sad. It's hurtful. I've cried so much."
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