Who doesn’t love a good diner story, right?
When they nearly airlifted an old dining car on the east end of Lake Street, smack dab into the middle of the organically cool Longfellow neighborhood, you had to know that there was a story forming.
Years ago, Mike Smith and James Brown of Forage Modern Workshop bought the old skanky contaminated Taco Bell across the street from their shop. At a loss for what to do with the spot, James heard about a diner that had been moved and restored. He began Googling.
He found this beauty, a classic 1957 Fedora diner called The Venus, sitting in disrepair in Cleveland. Knowing their limits, the team asked Jeremy Woerner and Pat McDonough of Blue Door Pub if they would throw in on the project, and the answer was a fast YES. And so The Venus started her journey north to become the Hi-Lo Diner.
All four are partners in the project. James and Mike, who own Brownsmith Restoration company besides Forage, are painstakingly rehabbing the old girl. They’ve matched the original terrazzo on the floor, found a cool blue equal for the original upholstery, and are hard at work on the lighting and stainless steel. They had to take most of the Taco Bell down, but retained a cooler and a couple of walls. This isn’t like Mickey’s Diner where the cookline is part of the dining space, this diner’s kitchen is attached (more room for the bar).
And what can we expect from the kitchen? The BDP crew has hired chef Heidi Marsh, lastly of Stillwater’s Chillkoot Cafe, to create an American diner menu that plays to the modern eater. That means that there will be fries, good ol’ pancakes, and the like, but there will also be some healthier lighter options and a few different versions of classic bits in the mix. The goal is to stay affordable and bring the food back to the original glory days of diner eating when everything was made from scratch in the kitchen, with signature dishes that were available only because of the cooks who lived there.
And FUN! We talked about a signature dish they’re working on called HI-TOPS, basically a made to order donut stuffed/topped with either savory or sweet bidness. Think a savory fried puff of dough topped with cheese curds and a fried egg, or perhaps some braised shortribs. It’ll happen. Hi-Lo will also have a full bar, with cocktails designed by drink-guy du jour Dan Oskey of Tattersall Distilling.
The swank space can hold about 70 people, with about 12 at the bar when the stools come in. There will also be a patio on the side which will add about 50 seats in the warmer months.
Like a great diner should be, the Hi-Lo will be open early for breakfast and close late for night owls.
While finishing touches are being made, the team has been hired and training will begin soon. Look for the doors to swing wide in mid-March. Get ready to be very jealous of your friends in Longfellow.