Former Tom’s Diner, now home to cocktail bar, marketed for lease


A scene from the grand opening of Tom’s Starlight, formerly Tom’s Diner, on Sept. 28, 2022. (Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

Another new era might already be in store for Tom’s Diner, one year after the latest began.

The 1960s Googie-style building at 601 E. Colfax Ave., which was renovated and rebranded last year as the cocktail-centric eatery Tom’s Starlight, is being marketed for lease.

Marketing materials on the website of brokerage David, Hicks & Lampert advertise the 3,700-square-foot building as a “turnkey restaurant” that can fit 90 people inside and another 245 on the outdoor patio.


Tom’s Diner in 2019. (BusinessDen file)

The property is owned by Cleveland-based GBX Group. GBX spokesman Phil Winton told BusinessDen Wednesday that the company and Tom’s Starlight owner Tom Messina are “gauging interest from restaurateurs and others to transition daily operations of Tom’s Starlight, possibly/likely under a new name and concept.”

“Tom is in the twilight of his working career and has expressed a desire to spend more time with family and away from the restaurant he has operated for decades,” Winton said.

Asked if the financial performance of Tom’s Starlight wasn’t meeting expectations, Winton said, “You can read between the tea leaves on that.”

Closure would mean a short run for Tom’s Starlight, which came together after the diner found itself at the center of a local historic preservation fight in 2019.

At the time, Messina, who opened Tom’s Diner there in 1999, had owned the Colfax property for more than a decade. The structure built in 1967 was initially part of Denver’s White Spot diner chain.

In spring 2019, however, a development firm that planned to buy the property from Messina signaled it wanted to demolish the diner building. Residents organized in an effort to save the structure, setting up a vote by Denver City Council on whether to name the building a city landmark. Messina pushed back initially, saying he was closing the diner regardless and the property sale was his retirement.

Then GBX stepped in. In December 2019, the firm and Messina announced that the building would be preserved and Messina would debut a new concept in the space. He described the arrangement at the time as a “win-win.” The deal was brokered in part by the local nonprofit Historic Denver.


Tom Messina, owner of Tom’s Starlight – formerly Tom’s Diner – on Sept. 28, 2022. (Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

Tom’s Starlight opened in September 2022. The restaurant’s interior, previously utilitarian, is now mid-century cool. The patio features cabana seating and replaces what used to be parking spaces. 

Unlike Tom’s Diner, which operated 24/7 and served a typical diner menu, Tom’s Starlight opens five days a week, at 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and at 10 a.m. on weekends. Entrees range from $16 mac and cheese to $38 pepper steak. Signature cocktails run about $14. (In a nod to the diner past, the menu does list a charge for “stupid questions.”)

Winton said an entity affiliated with GBX, which includes Messina, owns the property. Messina operates Tom’s Starlight.

Winton said that GBX is committed to the area, noting that the company is also involved in an effort to turn the nearby George Schleier Mansion into an Urban Cowboy hotel. And he noted that the former diner building, now on the National Register of Historic Places and under easement from the Colorado Historical Foundation, is protected from demolition.

“Our ownership team is proud to have saved this local landmark,” he said.

Correction: Language regarding the property owner has been clarified.

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