Fat bubbled in the fryer and flames licked the foot-long sausages on the cast-iron grill.
“I have three beefs and a side of juice!” hollered a woman behind the counter.
It wasn’t yet 11 a.m., and the woman already looked frazzled. Not surprising. A line — 40 customers long — snaked out the door at Dukes in Bridgeview on Friday. It’s been like that all month, ever since word trickled out that the diner, opened in 1975, is closing Saturday.
The property, on a stretch of Harlem Avenue constantly rumbling with traffic, has been sold to a developer, said Dukes’ operating manager Greg Mazak (“But everyone calls me Bud,” he said).
Dukes looks like countless joints in and around the city — neon strip lighting, bar stools covered with black vinyl, Italian beef, hamburgers, chili cheese dogs on the menu. Trucks pull up — American made, lots of chrome — and middle-aged guys with tattoos, many faded, get out.
But some of those guys were getting a lump in their throat as they waited in line for what they say is meat done better than just about anywhere else.
And they come for the cars. Classic Chevrolets, Plymouths and Packards fill the parking lot, where hoods go up, and guys — mostly guys — proudly display what gleams beneath.
“It’s hard to be here right now — you get a little choked up,” said Don Lumpkins, 49, who drove for 1 1/2 hours to come back to the place he’s known since he was a kid.
Jerry Edge, 80, hobbled around his turquoise 1947 Plymouth coupe with a cane.
“I know they’re going to tear it down. So I figured I’d come one more time,” said Edge, who recently had surgery to fuse his lower spine.
Denise — she didn’t want her last name used — came, too, in search of Italian beef.
She’s 58 now and has been coming since she was a teenager.
“We came for the food. I had a boyfriend. He had a muscle car — a ’73 Camaro,” she said.
Several decades later, her circumstances have changed.
“Now I’m with another guy, who has a ’67 Chevy, fast as hell. I can’t get away from here,” she joked.
For those who can’t imagine a world without Dukes, they might not have to. Mazak said he’s planning to reopen later this year in a location nearby.
“It’s still in the works,” he said.
There will be, he promises, plenty of room for vintage cars.
“I want to keep my car guys happy,” he said.