Best Of » Best of 2009 Vol. I

Best of 2009: The King and I

A night at the diner, where locals take their 3 a.m. eggs with a little 'Gin and Juice'

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Diner
Green Chili
Late-Night Dining

King's Chef Diner (131 E. Bijou St., 636-5010 • 110 E. Costilla St., 634-9135 • kingschefdiner.com)

Six months ago Gary Geiser's diner, already famous for its hair-tingling, taste-bud-destroying green chili, responded to the cries of late-nighters everywhere by opening its East Bijou Street location from 11 p.m. to 4:30-ish a.m. on the high holy days of partying: Friday and Saturday. In doing so, King's Chef sealed its own fate as the best post-bedtime eatery, the first locally owned restaurant to earn this intermittently given award since 1995.

Without further ado, here's one account of a recent Saturday night — and Sunday morning — at KCD:

11:45 p.m.: Forty-five minutes in, and two things occupy the dining room: five Colorado Springs Police Department officers, gearing up for another nonsensical weekend night downtown, and Snoop Dogg — seems early '90s hip-hop is in order.

As for the lack of patronage, server Kim Janson isn't surprised.

"We don't really get busy until 2, when the bars let out," she says.

Janson is tattooed, pierced and toughened to the idiocy that five beers brings. She says Geiser's laissez-faire approach to training, and the relaxed spirit of an independent restaurant, leave her free to deal with the inebriated as she deems appropriate.

12:26 a.m.: A couple meanders in. After ordering, they firmly establish that when not feeding the needy, he loves it when she calls him Big Poppa.

12:48: I chat more with Janson. She says the first late night that King's Chef was open, it saw five customers all night; then the bars started referring people and it grew from there. Now, an average night has the restaurant filling to capacity around 2 a.m. and staying that way past 4.

Janson grins. "Sometimes when we're full, we'll start putting people on the patio. They're drunk — they don't know that it's cold."

1:04: Speakers flow from The Chronic into OMD's "If You Leave." This feels like a lateral move.

1:24: Overheard from an optimistic male diner: "Well, hopefully you guys don't have to carry me out of here."

1:26: Janson and Amory Miller, also serving tonight and rocking rainbow-striped knee-high socks, are now running between seven tables, stacks of plates in one hand and pitchers of coffee and water in the other.

1:30: Modern music makes an appearance in the form of Kanye West's "Stronger." Two women, who have left the dance floor in body if not in spirit, celebrate this musical turn by staying seated and dancing the robot with completely straight faces.

1:49: The dining room is now half-full, and people continue to stream in. It's loud (even discounting Justin Timberlake's falsetto) and getting louder.

2:04: Janson rushes change back to a table ready to leave as two more groups sit down next to each other. That done, she grabs two water pitchers and a stack of paper cups and greets both simultaneously.

2:12: Overheard, one friend — concerned about the impactful green chili — to another: "You ever eat here? Oh, you are going to have diarrhea. You are definitely going to have diarrhea."

2:26: At this point, customers are forced to weave between the seated starving and rambunctious to find an open table; Janson and Miller are furiously scribbling tickets, calling back orders, and delivering food, two plates to an arm; the radio starts thumping out techno; and a group of women (loudly) celebrate ... something.

2:33: A bold soul yells out: "Can we get some service over here!" Less suicidal tablemates closely examine their cell phones for flaws or hidden messages.

2:38: Service received. Tablemates make "Oh-my-God-we're-so-sorry" face as they order.

2:46: Janson is resoundingly high-fived by a table of eight for having two Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy-related tattoos. This happens several more times before the night is over.

2:49: Note to self on dining etiquette: If out with a group of friends, don't forget to have everyone yell "Heeyy!" each time a new person joins the table.

3:01: Either the ATM has initiated a new process whereby the user bangs on the front with both hands to confirm "Yes" or "No," or it has run out of money. Time will tell.

3:25: The dining room looks worked-over, with crumpled napkins and cups covering the tables, and is about a third full.

3:46: After receiving her tip via the front of her shirt, Miller brings a customer the ultimate recognition: an Empty Plate Club sticker, proof that you came, you saw and you ate everything in sight.

"It goes on her butt," a friend tells Miller helpfully.

3:55: Depression takes a major blow when a particularly joyful woman tours the room, greeting anyone still eating by cupping their head and saying, "I love your face." Sadly, she stops before getting to my table.

4:10: With things winding down, I ask Miller how she thought the madness of tonight went:

"It was kind of slow," she says.

Really?

— Bryce Crawford

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