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Harvey Milk’s American Diner gets a rejuvenating "facelift"

SAN DIEGO -- After a busy night this past January, Harvey Milk’s American Diner closed its doors to undergo a complete remodeling. Or as the diner’s award-winning bartender "Big Mike" Phillips calls it, "a facelift."

"It’s a facelift, not a remodel. We kept the original shell but gave it new skin and accessories," he said. San Diego Gay & Lesbian News spoke with Phillips and business partner Frank Lechner about the stylish new look.

Partners Frank, Big Mike and Tom Brown wanted to modernize the neighborhood favorite with a clean, fresh design. They found the perfect guys for the job in designers David Koehn and Will Paine, who were able to meet the tight deadline of two and a half weeks. The colors they incorporated were influenced directly by the beloved logo, which was created by nationally known artist Joe Phillips and graphic designer Greg Cruz.

The updated look offers a versatile experience, a stylish eatery that you’d be as likely to frequent for cocktails as you would brunch. The new bar acts as the dividing line between the diner and cocktail lounge, featuring three ornate metallic panels that ascend from floor to ceiling. The facelift left only the walls and original floor, while sprucing up every other square inch inside the building. The design deftly blends the modern diner ambience while pulling in the reds and blues that are integral to the logo.

The Harvey Milk connection to San Diego is multifaceted. Having joined the U.S. Navy during the Korean War, Lt. Harvey Milk was stationed in San Diego until the mid-1950s. It’s only appropriate that, not only was San Diego the home of the nation's first Harvey Milk Street, but Frank and Mike were on the committee to name a street in his honor. Milk’s family gave these restaurateurs an exclusive use of name license, and a percentage of the diner’s revenue goes back to the Harvey Milk Foundation quarterly.

Additionally, Milk was a vocal advocate for small-business owners and believed that neighborhood shops and restaurants were vital to a community. Today, the partners at Harvey Milk’s echo his sentiment, and continue to give back to the community. In April, Harvey Milk’s American Diner will be participating in both Dining Out for Life and Dining Out for Autism. The owners want the diner to be a gateway to Hillcrest, a place where everyone feels welcome and safe.

The icing on the cake, so to speak, is a full liquor license. That means booze, beer and some of the best happy-hour specials in town. Whether you want a cocktail or the fan-favorite Bear Brunch, Harvey Milk’s is a popular place to go.

The response from both customers and employees has been overwhelmingly positive, and Frank and Big Mike say there might be even more improvements on the horizon.