Sure, it's only temporary. But even so…
St. Paul's dining car known for serving no-frills breakfasts, burgers, and shakes has battened its hatches—sorry, latched its ancient cooler doors—like so many others in the face of this wicked pandemic. Though multiple signs in the diner's windows make plain this isn't permanent, that Mickey's has closed at all is shocking.
This National Historic Landmark has served food 24 hours a day, 365 days a year since 1939. The diner's current answering machine puts it simply:
In these unprecedented times, we at Mickey’s Diner find, for the first time in our 80-year history, circumstances that cause us to temporarily suspend service to our customers.
William Rivillas, a Mickey's spokesperson who (like many of its employees) wears hats ranging from office manager to dishwasher, explained that, yes, there have been times when service was unavailable to customers before now, but not like this.
"We've closed for scheduled maintenance to clean our hoods—we just close overnight for the night shift. And also I think we closed when they filmed Jingle All the Way and the A Prairie Home Companion movie," he explained. "We didn’t 'close,' but people couldn’t come in, basically. But other than that, we’ve always been open."
This might make Mickey's Minnesota's Waffle House, dressed up in a well-loved vintage disguise. For three generations, Mickey's has always been there, through blizzards, floods, tornadoes, wars… even Lindsay Lohan. (Paging FEMA?)
To their credit, Mickey's did not go gentle into that good night… by which we mean for a few days before closing entirely, the car's booth section was shut down, stools were removed to enforce social distancing, and despite a cherished ban on the practice, Mickey's tried doing carry-out. On March 16, they announced to customers, "We have suspended our policy of 'absolutely no to-go food' and have selected items that travel best to offer to-go."
Just three days later, Mickey's made the difficult decision to reel in the crew, and closed to regroup.
Rivillas revealed that this first, proper closure created a unique problem: "There was no lock on the door."
Since finding a way to lock their lock-less front door, they've been focusing on "nagging maintenance" like cleaning up the front cooler and refinishing some of the car's old wood features. A peek inside reveals the place is mid-deep clean, with its stools reduced to bare posts, and the furthest thing from a flat top full of sizzling burgers and eggs.
"We're kind of playing it by ear right now," says Rivillas. A menu of items well suited for delivery is in the works, some of which may be pulled deep from the historic recipe vaults. They plan to reopen very soon. "We’re not closing, that’s for sure."
Until then, the folks in charge were kind enough to leave all of Mickey's iconic neon and bulbs blazing so the corner of West Seventh and St. Peter streets wouldn't fall into darkness, even in their absence.