Farewell Del Rio: Iconic Neighborhood Diner To Close After 40 Years

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Photo by Rachel Silberstein/Bensonhurst Bean

Photo by Rachel Silberstein/Bensonhurst Bean

Since 1976, Del Rio Diner has been open at 166 Kings Highway 24-hours a day, every day — except New Year’s Eve.

“New Year’s is amateur night,” explained Larry Georgeton, 66, co-owner of Del Rio and its spawn Vegas Diner (1619 86th Street). “We didn’t want the problems. At 9 o’clock we’d close, and reopen at 6, and we’d still sometimes get the crazies, bombed out of their shorts.”

Larry refused to let me take his photo, though he looked dashing with his snowy mustache and side burns, wearing a semi-unbuttoned pink-checked shirt, that revealed a tuft of chest hair and a thick gold chain. “You never know, somebody might be looking for me,” he said with a wink.

The iconic diner on the border between Bensonhurst and Gravesend, which was built from scratch by Larry and his partners Teddy Mavromichalis and Jimmy Vlamis (both in their 80s) from an old carwash, will close for good on July 24. Larry’s 86th Street diner, which has the same menu and is run by Teddy’s 40-year-old, energetic son Frankie, will remain open.

Photo by Rachel Silberstein/Bensonhurst Bean

Photo by Rachel Silberstein/Bensonhurst Bean

It’s a story that we’ve witnessed time and time again among mom and pops food establishments in Bensonhurst. Business at Del Rio has slowed considerably over the years as demographics shifted and the cost of labor and food skyrocketed.
“The economy is not for this kind of business model anymore,” said Larry. “I love my customers, and I don’t want to hurt them with the menu. They are hardworking, middle class people here — bus drivers, postmen, teachers — they don’t want to pay $9-$10 for a hamburger, so I said, let’s go out on top.”
Photo by Rachel Silberstein/Bensonhurst Bean

Photo by Rachel Silberstein/Bensonhurst Bean

Born and raised in Franklin Square, Long Island, Larry’s parents died before he turned 5 and he was raised by two Italian Ameican families. After a stint at Nassau Community College, Larry spent six years in the air force, where he was deployed to Vietnam. Though he still lives out on “the Island,” he says Brooklyn, where he built his business, is his home. “Over here, people are real, they tell it like it is,” he said.

Indeed, patrons grumbled loudly to Larry when he first raised his menu prices last year, and they kept it real when they learned this week that he is closing up shop. “The phone hasn’t stopped ringing,” he said.
Tears were shed when Larry first made the announcement to his 40-plus staff members Sunday night, many of whom have worked at the diner for more than a decade.
Photo by Rachel Silberstein/Bensonhurst Bean

Photo by Rachel Silberstein/Bensonhurst Bean

“It’s not like a job, we’re all one big family,” said Christina Arcudas, a server who has worked at Del Rio for 10 years.
The eatery has seen some wild times in its 40 year run. Scenes from the 2007 comedy film I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and an episode of the television show Blacklist were both filmed at the diner. Del Rio tables have seen Major League baseball player Joe Pepitone as well as comedian Jacky Mason, who brought with him an entourage of six. “He stopped at every single table,” Larry said of the humorist.
Larry fondly recalls Del Rio during Bensonhurst’s disco era, when John Travolta-wannabes packed the diner after hours each weekend.
“You had to be here Friday and Saturday night, it was killer. We use to get all the clubs,” said Larry. “It was like a fashion show; with the girls, and the guys were all three-piece suits.”
Photo via MyFeng912

Photo via MyFeng912

In addition to the occasional celebrity, local cops and politicians are welcome regulars at Del Rio, including the staff of Assemblyman William Colton’s office, which is located across the street. A steady group of retired officers and other neighborhood old timers meet at the diner every Thursday to play cards and reminisce. During Fleet Week, sailors know that if Larry is around, they eat free.
Though Larry says he knows the time has come to move on, the idea is still painful. “Because this is the mother,” he said. “When you lose a mother, it hurts.”

If you decide to stop by Del Rio Diner to pay your respects this week, Larry recommends the hamburger, made exclusively with Pat LaFrieda meats. Meanwhile, share your favorite Del Rio memories in the comments below.

  • Sean F

    Many years ago, we held my son’s Kindergarten “prom” at the Del Rio. Had a great time with all the kids dressed up in their best, and a donated superstretch limo to take the kids the few blocks from the school to the diner. The staff and food was great.

    I didn’t realize it was the same owners and menu as the Vegas, or I probably would have gone there more often.

  • Joseph Ditta

    Nice story, Rachel, but it’s not on the border between Bensonhurst and Gravesend. It’s in Gravesend.

    • Sean F

      The point is kind of immaterial, but the border of Gravesend is Kings Highway, so technically, it is right on the border.

      • Rachel Silberstein

        The Kings Highway boundary is my understanding as well, though perhaps “right over the border” would be more accurate.

  • Emerald5Forever

    I used to pass by the Del Rio diner on my way to Highlawn Library…sad to see it go. I never got to eat in and try the food.

  • ROSALIE907

    Would go there often, was part of that group that went during the Disco Era but the best memory is how nice the staff was and still is. It’s going to be missed but I have to say that I hope it doesn’t turn into another Condo development like El Greco was sold for.

  • Stephen Y Aka SAY

    I grow up in Brooklyn and was a patron of the The Del Rio for at least 20yrs of my life.. My family would be at the Diner 4-5day a week. I can tell you that my Mother grow up in that Dinner with the owners Jimmy &Larry so they were like my second family as well. They had the best stuff Filet of Sole w/crabmeat stuffing❤ i have ever eaten in my life i must say. We would go there on Thanksgiving for our Traditional Thanksgiving dinner and they would treat all there costumers like family and special whenever they would come in to eat at there family restaurant. I will be said that all the nastolga and history that my family has ever had in there lives will be closing when they shut the doors a great family Brooklyn Diner. So i will say let us all pay our respect and honor to have made great memories and experiences at the Del Rio Diner in Brooklyn. All the best for A time honored classic Greek American Diner I say..

  • Ester M

    Oh my gosh! Will surely miss this place. Many, many, years of amazing and delicious memories.

  • Robert D

    In another ten years there wont be a single place left from my youth, but who’s to blame? I know i haven’t eaten in a dinner in 10 years and only live a mile away. So at some point in my future i’ll point to a laundromat and tell my kid, see that i used to go there, half in the bag and eat cheeseburgers at 3am in the morning w all my buddies.

    • Sean F

      Diners are such a great part of Brooklyn life. When I was a kid, diners has this specialness about them because we only went to the diner (the Tiffany, on Fourth) for special occasions. After my 8th Grade graduation dance, a bunch of us, feeling very grown up and sophisticated, went to the Floridian, on Flatbush. Diners were special places with high-class names. It wasn’t until high school (hanging at the BridgeView) that I even realized you could go to a diner for nothing more than a burger, fries and a shake, instead of the steak, chops and pasta that we had there on those special occasions. Thank God the Vegas is staying open.

      • Veal Parmigiana

        Sean, have you considered sharing your thoughtful, quality content in a column all your own? I’d love to see articles written from your perspective.

        • Sean F

          Thank you for the compliment. I really appreciate it. I used to have a blog, but I lack the time for even mid-length writing these days. Popping out a few quick responses is easy, but keeping to a regular writing schedule is impossible. Maybe I’ll try again when I retire, or when the kids leave home for good, but still some years off.

          • Veal Parmigiana

            I understand. Great content either way!

    • Joe

      3 am in the morning? as opposed to 3 am at night?

      • Sean F

        The cup is half full or half empty. If you just got up, it’s morning. If you’ve been partying, it’s still night.

    • Glen Benjamin

      Blame Demicrats for ruining NY and America,

      • anonymousbro

        and blame dubya and the republicatards for the mess in the middle east and the foundation for the rise of ISIS.

        blame republictards for inhibiting progress and slowing down the path to equality for all people. blame republictards for not allowing women to do what they want with their bodies. blame republictards for allowing christians to marginalize other groups.

  • Evan1407

    Bit by bit, Brooklyn is slipping away. Now there’s no diner in the neighborhood. The last Jewish deli left a while back. What’s next?

    • Black Adam

      L&B will be a Chinese buffet by 2021.

      • Evan1407

        I think it will happen sooner than that.

      • Sean F

        Not likely. The family has both deep history in the location, and deep roots in the community. I believe their recent tragedy will make L&B even more important to them. And their business is only likely to increase due to people rediscovering it, and to new people flocking there after Louis’ death, and becoming addicted.

        • Black Adam

          OK….that time I was just kidding around….

          • Sean F

            Ha! You got me! 🙂

          • Evan1407

            Me too. I thought your comment was hysterical. Maybe L&B won’t be the next Chinese buffet, but a new one will pop up in the neighborhood soon.

      • ROSALIE907

        GOD FORBID L & B is a staple and despite what just happened to I hope the family continues the tradition and doesn’t sell out like so many other places.

        • Tip

          To Eatalians in SI or NJ: Drive across Verrazanos.

      • HEY

        I hope you are joking on this.

        I am Chinese and I DON’T want another trashy buffet. I don’t care who runs the restaurant and decides the foods, NO. BUFFET.

    • Sean F

      The Mirage Diner is just a bit further down Kings Hwy from the Del Rio.

      • Evan1407

        I forgot about Mirage, partly because I ordered from there a few months ago and was quite unimpressed.

  • Λευτερης

    What a shame…i remembered when I first came to the US and visited Del Rio with my uncle. Jimmy Vlamis was very good friends with my uncle, treated me and my brother for dinner and then he gave us $50 each. Poor kids, 16 years old coming from Greece, and he treated is like royalty. That was 24 years ago. One of the greatest men I have ever met. I will miss Del Rio.

  • juniornaturel

    gonna miss their omelets

  • Larry Litmanen

    This diner is just the latest victim of politics. With minimum wage going up these places need to increase food prices.

    When minimum wage goes up a food chain can simply change technology, for example in many parts of Europe there are fewer employees in McDonalds because there are self order stations. CEO of Panera Bread said that by 2017 every Panera will have those stations too here in USA. As a result they would need fewer people, 15 years ago average McDonald’s had 9 more employees per location than it does now. Food is prepared in a way and shipped in such a way that it needs to be handled by fewer people.

    On the other hand smaller places can afford the wage increase because they charge more for a ‘premium’ burger. See Burger Fi or Shake Shack.

    This leaves diners in the middle, they can’t automate like large chains and can’t charge more for food.

    Now of course we can simply point out that the reason this is taking place is because people who have almost no useful skills demand money through legislation, but that would upset too many people here.

    Fact of the matter is when you are unskilled or low skilled you will never be able to earn above your level of productivity. Just like a bookkeeper can’t demand as much money as an auditor with a CPA, or a foot doctor wanting more money than a brain surgeon these people simply cannot demand $15 an hour.

    Well they can, but the result is that those who can adjust (large corporations) will simply hire fewer people.

    • Wayne Lippman

      So true, spoken intelligently like a schooled economist. Unfortunately, the short sighted populist legislators will never get it. Just give the uneducated what they demand, regardless of the repercussions which should never have been unforeseen.

  • creeping critter

    All these people posting postive comments about the restaurant. More power to you. I hope you will allow for negative comments as well unless this is no longer america (for this reason im using a bogus screen name because ill feel the inflamatory comments coming). On that note i hope we can aggree to disaggree. I live a block away from del rio diner. It became a diner when i was a child and before that it was a car wash. anyone remember that? Anyone remember the car accident that led the driver into the wall along its path to what is now that $5 shoe store? So now you know im not just a know nothing rambler.

    Del rio used to be excellent. We used to go outside and the scent of the food was great and attracted us to go there. The food was superb and the service was great.

    The last 15 years its changed to the worse. Granted im all for pepole who come from other countries to find work here but Ive been going there again since 2008 , 2013 , last week and yesterday. Only once the food was really good. I had ordered chicken scampi. Other than that the waiters and waitresses didnt understand my order even if i spoke slower and when i pointed to the menu and asked for my fries to be more well done CRISPY they came to me mushy. Sent it back, same situation and now the whole meal including fries were COLD.

    These things happen allt he time. Whether i take family or friends or friends there from out of town. Ive tried to explain to my family years ago that the food was better and tried to impress them. Unless you get there really early the food wont be so fresh or as good. So my family never liked it.

    The last number of years the scent of food has turned into rancid grease smell. Nothing rarely smells good anymore coming out of that restaurant except maybe when theyre actually making items with red sauce but thats rarely. Complaints fell on deaf ears. The only time it actually smelled different is when they actually CLEANED the outside and inside and poured massive amounts of bleach all around the restaurant last year for the filming of The Blacklist tv series. WOW thats what it took for a change! The least they could have done is clear out the fryers thorougly and put in fresh oil.
    The waiters/waitresses have changed hands a number of times . Only some of the waiters and waitresses remained. However the service has not changed. We sit there and immediately asked if we are ready to order and we say we’d like to look at the menu first and then wait for long periods of time.My meatball hero came out 1 hour later and my friend’s eggs came out 5 minutes later. Maybe they had to go to the farm first? lol Anyways on a good note his eggs were done right finally, my fries were okay and not crispy but i didnt want to have to wait longer. Red sauce was extremely sweet(as in putting way too much sugar in it! a little is fine but a lot is horrid) and not much sauce so i took it home and used my sauce instead. Strawberry cheesecake was over $7 where Da Nonna Rosa in bay ridge is much better and costs less. My whole meal with coffee came out to over $26.

    We’ll be going to Mirage(remember when it was Townhouse?), Parkview(remembmer when it was nebraska diner?) or Vegas for now. From what i hear both del rio and vegas is owned by the same owners and that will closed own in november but no one has a straight story.

    I hate the fact that del rio wont be turning into another restaurant. I personally would have loved it and welcome it. Im sure a lot of people will too. Unfortunately both del rio and vegas will be turning into condos just like the rest of bensonhurst and gravesend area which sucks. They dont even make underground parking spaces for these and i hear theyre going to take over the current del rio parking lot to be covered by the entire building. Even though project managers must be money hungry that they dont care about parking being strapped around here as it is , this might be profitable for small food businesses in the area UNTIL they somehow make another similar restaurant in the area and WHO KNOWS how much that is going to cost,

    I am happy for the person who said they had a great party for their son here. Glad something worked out right for once.

    I for one must say fare thee well owners. I wished you would have handed over the business to someone else who can do it better but glad youre living off your riches now. Best wishes in your endeavors and retirement.

    • Evan1407

      You have much too much time on your hands. You could’ve said you just didn’t like it instead of writing War & Peace.

  • Glen Benjamin

    Hillary just introduced her VP. Keep voting Democratic and you will get more of this. Vote for Trump and he and his team will help make America great again. Demicrats have ruined NY yet minorities keep voting for them expecting something different. Instead all democrats know minorities are a given voting bloc for democrats and do not have to do anything.

    Owner points out correctly his raiding minimum wage so much causes businesses to raise prices to consumers. At this time a nine dollar hamburger us crazy at a diner.

    • Sean F

      America has never ceased being great. Conservatives who think it is not are either rich, or gullible in thinking the GOP will ever do anything but make the rich richer, and everyone else poorer. They forget that America was founded by liberals, who overthrew the old ways, and then created this great nation to bring prosperity to everyone. The only reason the new minimum wage doesn’t work is because business owners don’t want to share their profits with the employees who make them money, or the customers who won’t have the money to spend. The economy is at its best place in many years, with the stock market setting records every day this past week. Trump lies about NAFTA being Clinton’s biggest failure, when it was Bush who negotiated it, and a Republican majority in the House and Senate who ratified it. And Clinton only signed it after he negotiated a side deal that protected American jobs (somethjng Bush failed to include). So keep dreaming your Conservative dreams, but none of them are American.

      • Glen Benjamin

        You too are joking. NAfta is a joke. Paying 15 dollars is too much if prices must be increased to balance out. Same reason many people fired and robots used to cut costs. Simple economics is above Democrats knowledge.

        Liberal democrats Also founded KKK. Clinton pure evil in breaking the law and having Bill pardon terrorists and voting bloc Hasudim who stole money. I coukd go in and on but real Anericans know voting Dmicratic has ruined NY and America.

        • Sean F

          As I said, if NAFTA is “a joke”, then it is the Republicans’ fault because it was their treaty, not the Democrats.

          And if America or NY is ruined, feel free to go somewhere that conforms to your beliefs. Try Texas, which is a Conservative heaven, and whose massive education system holds the entire nation’s textbook contents hostage.

        • Sean F

          BTW, I am not a Democrat. I’m a recovering Republican who realized the evil, unAmerican, unChristian things the GOP now espouses. I do think it is funny how Republicans can’t decide if they hate Democrats because D’s are “intellectual elites” or “stupid”. Your narrative flip-flops like a dying fish on a dock.

    • American Everyman proud & free

      All you constant complainers, who can’t even see how far we’ve come from 2007 & 2008 when the economy collapsed, The car companies, the stock market, housing, Body bags were coming back by the dozens every week from Iraq ,unemployment was rising, gas prices were higher.& banks were failing. Today the car companies are making millions, the banks recovered, housing is booming , the stock market is at record highs, unemployment is way down as are gas prices. Vote for T-rump and help the Aryans, the KKK The Nazis, the insulting germen psychotic lunatic, the phony billionaire who will not show his tax returns, why? Maybe he paid no taxes like so many other very wealthy people do. Don Duc T-rump the narcissistic bully for all you ass kissers. Our country is NOt a business, a casino or a reality show.

      • Glen Benjamin

        Your joking right. What works are you living in and can I join you? Voting for Trump fixing this country. Vote fir Hillary and get more lies about Iran health care etc. it must be great living in fantasy land.

        • Sean F

          What lies about health care? The only people complaining about The Affordable Care Act (based on Mitt Romney’s Republican insurance legislation) are insurance company owners., which is strange since their profits and stock prices are up since ACA. So many lives have been saved by ACA because people who would have died without coverage can now get treatment. If anyone is lying about healthcare, it’s Trump and the Republicans. Try reading actual government sources instead of Faux News.

        • American Everyman proud & free

          Who Mr. B Gets 15 dollars a hour yet? These wages increases are not jumping to that amount, just like that bullshit artist Herr T-rump, you spew you half truths & lie about everything. The reason many diners are closing is that new arrivals don’t go to diners. .And the super rich builders are just waiting with their drooling mouths to keep building higher & higher bigger & bigger condos. .Mr.B you must be a Fox jerk. You are a typical prick who has his head in the sand & can’t see anything that’s real. If you don’t think America is,, was & has always been a great country, Get the out & go somewhere else.If you .

          • Glen Benjamin

            Your not Everyman heck you are not even a man. Stooping to cursing and name calling just proves me right. DEmoncats like you are what is wrong with this country. Drive off a cliff with your family and Hillary Clinton. That way we get rid if her and your defective bloodline is at an end. Bye bye.

          • American Everyman proud & free

            I’m more of a man then you will ever be, go take your nationalist Herr T-rump who sounds like other nationalists , Mussolini, Hitler, Franco & Putin and go keep putting America down, You right wing neo fascist scumbags who twist history to push your degenerate ideas. We’ve seen you types in Bosnia, in Auschwitz, & Selma. take your hate & fuck your dumb family you piece of crap. What have the do nothing Republicans ever done for the middle class, the workers, women , consumers, the environment , for anyone except the super rich, the NRA, & the anti abortionists. Come on twist some history dummy. It’s too bad your weren’t aborted or your father jerked off in the sink. Let’s start another war, that war that the dim bulb George Bush started worked out so well. Let’s send women back to the stone age, Let’s shut the government down again and threaten the economy, Your a prickly weasel Glen & I hope you some help.

          • Sean F

            Give it up, AE. All he has is hate and lies. Note that he can’t address any of the factual rebuttals I raised to his baseless ranting. People of his ilk are to be pitied.

  • anonymousbro

    welcome to american capitalism, improve or get out. they can only blame themselves. crap coffee, food poisoning, and overpriced and bland food. what did they expect? people need to stop looking at things through rose-tinted glasses.

  • Reyna Machado

    Born and raised at Del Rio… Seen many places come and go but it feels like a part of my life is over. Vegas Diner just doesn’t have the same vibe or staff.

    • The Galloping Gormet

      During the late 1980’s, I wrote for ROADSIDE, the journal of American diners. I bet 75% or more of the diners I visited have shuttered. It’s too bad. Brooklyn and the entire USA have lost great culinary and cultural icons. If you have ever stopped at the BENDIX on Rt. 17 in New Jersey, you know what I mean. If you have a diner in your HOOD, eat there, support a tradition while moderating the creeping chain-store mentality.

  • TOM

    I have not been there in 10 years since I moved out of the neighborhood but its sad to see this place go. I would have gone Sunday if I knew they were leaving.

  • Debbie Dinh

    I’m sad to see that they’ve closed down, I enjoy taking my children there on my day off and having breakfast with them before we start out day out. It was such a friendly environment in there and the food was great. So unfortunate.

  • John Flint

    We grew up there…. sad to see it go!

  • Eddie j

    It’s Saturday nov 26 2016 I woke up today at 1130 I’m from the neighborhood I said I’m going get ready and goto del rio get some good pancakes with butter side of there great onion rings a coffee and soda with lemon . I get in the car I drive there and looks like a ghost town it’s strip down and fenced in my face dropped I just stood there and thought all the late night times there eating hanging with Gus the night manager having a drink and winning all the stuff animals outside in hallway for the women I was with. Wtf all dinners are gone. I went to coney and Quentin and cousins is gone wtf. Brooklyn sucks I’m outta here