LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — An iconic Las Vegas restaurant is closing its doors: Vickie’s Diner, a small café and lunch counter on Las Vegas Boulevard.
The diner is a favorite of longtime locals but has an international following, as well.
For hundreds of Las Vegans, many of whom live within walking distance, Vickie’s Diner is sort of like their own kitchen. They stumble in at all hours in various states of sobriety and know exactly what they want because so many of them eat here almost every single day.
“Yea, some of them it’s every day,” said Michael Hawkins, the diner’s manager. “It’s every day they come in and have something.”
Hawkins is a relative newcomer. He’s worked at Vickie’s for six years but has heard the stories passed down by generations of employees about gambling legends and other notables who’ve chowed down here for decades.
The diner has always had a 50s retro vibe, even before its most recent makeover. It’s tucked into what once was the White Cross Drug Store, the first 24-hour pharmacy in town. The pharmacy attracted some notable customers at 3 in the morning.
“Stories of Elvis coming in when it was the only 24-hour diner, or actually, the 24-hour pharmacy in town,” Hawkins recounted. “He would come in and get his whenever he needed, and he would sit in the same place, same place, same story, every time.”
Vickie’s has changed hands and names a few times since it opened in 1964. For decades, the doors were never locked.
The diner was not only like home for its customers but also for the staff. Yanni Kelesis spends more time in the kitchen than he does at his own house.
“Oh, yeah. Every day, every day … every day, every day,” said Kelesis. We asked what his hours are like, to which he replied: “Hours? There’s no hours when you go into the restaurant business, no hours. You start working to the time you finish, then you go home.”
The diner was purchased by Pete Kelesis in 1969. His son George, a Las Vegas attorney, is still a partner.
But Pete’s niece Vickie is the heart and soul of the cafe. She worked here as a waitress for years, then bought the place and became its namesake.
About 80% of the customers are tourists, Vickie says. Europeans who’ve read about it online or who are fans of an infamous piece of weird art that hangs on the wall, or who’ve seen it in movies or on television.
But since early July, Vickie’s normal optimism has been tough to spot.
“Yes, I’d be honest with you. I cry every day because is not the business and the experience I have here, it’s my heart and my feelings,” she said.
On July 1, Vickie was informed that the diner had to go. The owner, an out-of-state developer, has plans for the property. She was ordered to vacate the property within one month but got an extension until Aug. 26.
It takes more than 30 days to move 56 years of history.
“I was shocked, was shocked,” Vickie recalled. “I received the letter beginning of July and says it’s a new buyer for the property, and they don’t want us here anymore.”
The Kelesis family has been looking for other places that might be suitable, but moving during a pandemic and leaving behind customers and employees is difficult to absorb.
There’s also the matter of a semi-feral cat named Troy who was born on the roof of the diner and has spent his entire life up there. He’s part of the family, too.
One way or another, Vickie vows to carry on, saying:
“And everybody cannot follow us because when I start this, I’m not done. I’m continuing, and God tell me continue.”