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Watching the Clock 

24-hour restaurants struggle to fill the gap.

During the week, the Bourbon Street diner slings its burgers, omelets and heavy side orders of sass across the counter only until midnight. These can be hard days for night owls, especially when they're hungry. The city never had a tremendous range of 24-hour restaurants, and even that slim crop has been chopped down since the storm. Most such places have reopened or are currently rebuilding, but many have struggled back only with seriously reduced hours.

Bonny MacDonald, a server at Angeli on Decatur, is usually hungry when she gets off her shift in the early morning hours, but her search for something to eat often takes her right back where she started. "I give up after a while and just call this place to have them deliver something to wherever I am," she says.

Angeli, previously open 24 hours on weekends, is now only open until 4 a.m. on weekends and 2 a.m. otherwise, but that's still later than most other restaurants around town. Even the one-time stalwarts of round-the-clock eats -- the places where a good plate of eggs and something fried could be found no matter where the sun was shining -- have been reduced to hours resembling a teenager's curfew.

In the French Quarter, the deli cases at Verti Marte are still crammed with trays of baked macaroni, buttery greens and breaded cutlets, but the formerly 24-hour operation is now open 14 hours a day: "8 to 10," a man behind the counter says sullenly when asked, shaking his head as he says it. "And the kitchen closes a little earlier than that."

La Peniche, the Marigny bargeboard diner with its 24-hour quiche, red beans and house-labeled sparkling wine, used to close only for a few shifts on Wednesdays. Now it closes at 8 p.m. The Clover Grill is back to 24-hour status, but only on the weekends. During the week, the Bourbon Street diner slings its burgers, omelets and heavy side orders of sass across the counter only until midnight.

It's much the same story in the suburbs. Tic Toc CafŽ on Veterans Memorial Boulevard is once again cooking 24 hours a day, but only one of the links in the Dot's Diner chain is back up to full steam. The River Ridge Dot's is open around the clock, but others like the Airline Drive location close at 5 p.m. on weekdays and noon on weekends. The Cajun Jukebox Diner in Kenner, formerly a 24-hour operation, doesn't see sunset anymore, closing now at 6 p.m.

Uptown, the St. Charles Tavern takes its last orders around 3:15 a.m. to close up at 4 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday. It calls it a night at 11 p.m. on Sunday and doesn't open at all on Monday. The Trolley Stop diner just up the avenue serves breakfast and lunch only now, closing at 2 p.m. daily.

Anita's on Tulane Avenue near the Dixie Brewery was inundated by floodwaters and remains closed, but the diner is currently being rebuilt by the same owners.

While the flood is to blame at Anita's, the problem holding back 24-hour operations at other restaurants is the delicate equation of customer demand and staffing -- the contemporary hobgoblin of post-Katrina restaurants no matter if their employees wear tuxedos or tube tops to work. It's hard to find enough employees to staff shifts in general, but harder still when those shifts may be slow and risk low tip potential. The drop in tourist visits since the storm means fewer people are partying into the wee hours and incurring the accompanying late-night hankering for food.

But there are some 24-hour operations in town again, and those that have taken up the round-the-clock schedule are seeing a great deal of their business coming from other people working in the service industry. The all-night Quartermaster Deli on Bourbon Street is a regular stop for bar and restaurant workers once their own shifts let off in the early morning hours. At DŽjˆ Vu on Dauphine Street, also 24 hours once again, the late-night crowd is bedecked in the telltale uniforms of the kitchens and dining rooms from nearby restaurants. Just outside the French Quarter, Huey's 24/7 has a new owner, a new name and new hours. Michael Rosenblatt bought it from the Doyle Restaurant Group before the storm but only recently changed its name to Rosey's. It's open 24 hours again, though only Wednesday through Saturday these days. It closes at 10 p.m. on other nights.

The march back to full 24-hour service may be a barometer for the city's recovery, or at least the normalizing resumption of old habits. The hours of operation have been getting progressively later and later at Angeli on Decatur, for instance, as the staff and customer base slowly return. As before, the restaurant projects classic movies on its wall behind the bar all night for diners' enjoyment. It has also added live music, booking jazz bands like the New Orleans Jazz Vipers for nightly shows earlier in the evening.

Lucky Dog vendors along Bourbon Street say their business has been improving, too, keeping them out until around 5 a.m. on good weekend nights. For a menu with few choices -- one, in fact -- CafŽ du Monde serves beignets at its French Market location 24 hours a day once again.

There are also all-night bars keeping the fires burning late. For instance, Igor Martin's Checkpoint Charlie's in the Marigny and Igor's Lounge & Game Room on St. Charles Avenue both serve burgers 24 hours a day. In Mid-City, the Beach Corner bar on Canal Street is open and grilling burgers until 2 a.m. through the week and 4 a.m. on weekends while the Red Eye Grill on Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Metairie keeps serving until 2 a.m. Yo Mama's, the tavern on St. Peter Street, commonly serves hangover-defying creations like a bacon and peanut butter burger until 5 a.m. For people up that late, though, there's also the option of breakfast as other restaurants open up for the day. Betsy's Pancake House, reopened now on Canal Street, gets the coffee brewing at 5:30 a.m. each morning.

click to enlarge The Clover Grill is back to 24-hour status, but only on the - weekends. - CHERYL GERBER
  • Cheryl Gerber
  • The Clover Grill is back to 24-hour status, but only on the weekends.
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