A short walk from my comfortable dorm bed lies Epicurean and Company, a conveniently, perpetually-open diner described by Google reviews as an “Eclectic eatery on university campus [that] has sushi, hibachi, a salad bar, pizza & more, plus TV sports.” Oh Boy.
Haven’t you ever wondered how a 24-hour restaurant actually works? When do they clean the place? When do waiters change shifts? Does this mean that there are people who sleep all day, get up at 9pm and begin serving food to drunk teenagers from dusk till dawn? Who in their right mind is eating at 4:43 am? I have drawn the proverbial short straw amongst the Voice staff, and I am prepared to answer these hard hitting questions for the sake of science, curiosity, and a complete disregard for my own Circadian rhythm. I write this on the quest to be the voice of the people: the post-class diner willing to overpay for buffet-style cuisine, the 10:00 pm drunk, the 3:00 am stoner looking to fall asleep in quesadilla grease. With a goal of making Epi my home from 11:00 pm to the crack of dawn, it is time to test the definition of 24-hour dining.
These are my conditions:
Sleeping is not permitted
I must order something at least every six hours
I may not leave the premises of Epicurean and Company
Internet usage is limited based on the following conditions:
- No video streaming: Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc.
- Snapchats must be continuously taken through the course of the experience
- Email and other forms of social media are permitted every three hours for 10 minutes
- Pornography access is unlimited, but on full volume… headphones are unpermitted
These are my rewards:
10:47 PM. I begin packing my overnight survival bag. Manifest: phone and laptop chargers, MacBook (to give you these words you read today), change of t-shirt, toothbrush. As I shuffle my way across the hospital parkland, I see the hearth-like, yellowish glow of my new home. By 10:54, I have pushed my way through the door into a surprisingly quiet display. Pairs of late-night, presumably sober, diners dot the communal tables of the main dining area and a few loyal UC Boulder fans crowd the bar. I settle into a 4-person table by the front windows (a much needed hunt for an outlet drew me to the location). The restaurant is quiet now; a phalanx of empty chairs draw my eyes into the restaurant. The pseudo-marble pillars make me suddenly think of ancient Greece, then the realization that what I am doing is a Sisyphean task.
Stretching my vision all the way back into the depths of the deceptively expensive buffet section brings my gaze onto the sushi bar. Are those hibachi grills?….. Yes, visualization confirmed, we have been in the presence of the least used hibachi grills in the world. I do not think I have ever actually seen anyone sit in that part of Epi. In fact, I have never even seen it open.
The staff gently raises the volume of the all-but-elevator-music jazz piano. My eyes were already getting a bit drowsy from the dim, yet warm, lighting. I have experienced my first internal cry for sleep.
I figure while I am here, do as the Romans do: hand over $8.42 for a chicken quesadilla. According to my receipt I am “ORDER #2483.” There are no prizes for 2483rd place.
I take of at my short-stack of oblong tortilla bricks. I will fully admit…it is delicious. My sense of accomplishment must have been an unseen flare in the sky to drunk youths of campus. A homing beacon for the first party quitters to begin their ravenous drunk-munching cycle. A few young, New England-raised boys sporting backward baseball caps and quarter-zips stumble in, invigorated by the finest Natural Light and teenage libido.
A young man in a cornflower blue checkered shirt tails behind his friends. I can only think of Fight Club references for the next 4-6 minutes. A boisterous, smiling group of girls follow behind him. The tide of students eventually subsides and about 30 heads break the uniformity of the empty chairs.
A guy eats a burger that fell on the floor, well beyond the three-second-rule. Though, who am I to judge the willpower and dedication of humankind. More and more patrons slowly trickle in. I make a hypothesis that every 25 people who enter equates to one guy in a button down in Henle standing up on a chair and yelling “Yo!!! Party’s over Get the F**k Out!”
12:23AM Happy Saturday.
The quesadilla turns out to be a mistake. Don’t eat it sober. It is a beer sponge and nothing more. I begin debating the possibility of a cup of coffee, but I think I should save that for my darker hours. I decide to take my jacket off and let the cold keep me awake.
The Chaos Begins
Overheard at Epicurean: “I saw Bo Burnham in New York and he was amaaaaaazing, literally the best thing ever!”
The group later continues with sentiments such as “I wish we all had bigs and littles!” and “No, it’s actually Vineyard Vines.” Every good hero needs an enemy, and these people are my collective antagonist for the time being in my one day bildungsroman.
A sea of faces begin to flow in at a much faster rate than earlier in the evening. The noise is enough to keep me alert. The ambiance follows a distinct pattern: a dull roar interrupted by piercing, screams of excitement; over and over again. However, the liveliness comes with its perks, as I am pleasantly surprised by a few familiar faces. Even though they are fellow Voice Staffers coming to ensure that I am holding true to my social experiment, the conversation is a nice break from silent observation.
We have finally hit peak hour. With Epi in full swing, it becomes a great deal easier to recognize what a staple of Georgetown this is for students. The late night experience is an important social ritual for undergrads. Arriving in droves, jubilant youths pour through the restaurant and eagerly wait, ticket clutched in hand, for an edible final chapter of their weekend evening.
The party has not stopped here. I watch the staff discreetly drift around the rows of tables, calmly maintaining order. A young worker scoops up an empty paper cup and a handful of old fries off the floor. This must be the most brutal shift of the week. Having worked a plethora of restaurant jobs, from pizza delivery guy, to sushi waiter, to Mexican chain busboy, I am not stranger to the difficult ins and outs of overwhelming restaurant work. The bedlam of accommodating such a massive amount of customers can be a stressful chaos. I am sure the mess does not help either.
Relevant side note: according to ‘credible sources,’ someone has thrown up in the men’s bathroom sink. I do not know if there is a tip jar by the register, but if there is, please contribute to it handsomely. We are all cheap college students, but if there’s ever a time to show some much deserved reciprocal generosity, it is now.
2:14 AM. A young couple takes to a table nearest me. The young beau pulls out rolling papers, filters, and a bag of tobacco. Exhaustion combined with jaded cynicism compels me to tell him to go back to Williamsburg.
Hectic as it may be, tonight’s circus has finally surpassed its peak. The staff finally seems able to get ahead of the destructive path of patrons. The crowd itself has changed. Those remaining are interested in a much more mellow evening than their associates of just 45 minutes ago. The noise have turned to a muted blur, but it is certainly much easier to pick up bits of conversation now as opposed to before. A 2:19 AM headcount gives me roughly 25 late night diners. My love of symmetry is almost satisfied as the straight rows of empty chairs begin returning.
The Long, Quiet Night
A pajama-clad crowd makes a bolt down from Henle. Their comfortable clothing choices make me regret my own stiff boots and jeans. With the exception of myself, these folks are the final patrons of the evening. All that can be heard now are murmurs of conversation and the squeaks of chairs being dragged back to their proper homes. The staff is now much more visible as they diligently begin preliminary preparations for tomorrow. My beloved, soothing piano music has finally returned, and I am at peace. I take a moment to stretch my legs, taking a lap around the dining area to get a different perspective of the evening’s carnage.
A pile of squished french fries inhibits me at a natural bottleneck between tables. They have been stepped on enough that they are completely flush to the floor. I find myself staring a minute too long at these new potato floor decorations. On the way back to my niche writing station, I purchase my second item of the evening: an apple. What can I say, I’m on a budget here.
I am satisfied with telling myself that these improved financial and health choices definitely counteracts the quesadilla of 4 hours ago.
2:33AM I make brief conversation with a friendly employee named Antonio. Although work pulled him away, I suspect that by 7:00 AM, we will have a few nice chats and become inseparable friends. I now at least have someone to give a friendly half-nod smile as he repeatedly passes by.
I feel as though I am hearing voices from above me from time to time. It takes me about twenty minutes to figure out there is a speaker in the wall playing faint talk radio behind me. I continually glance around for a way to mute the man and woman recapping college basketball. Their presence is keeping me on edge, and I cannot relax with their whispers going on around my table. My executive decision is to relocate. Given the current lack of patrons, I make the jump to an outlet-less booth. I can now view every table in the restaurant stretching all the way to the deep blue lights of the adjoining sports bar. Plus, my body thanks me for the cushion upgrade.
The lighting is definitely much brighter now than when I first arrived. Although I still find it warm and pleasant, it no longer induces sleep; someone up there loves me. The exhaustion factor is really starting to kick in right around now. With all but two other patrons gone, I have direct view of myself in the mirror behind the bar shelves from the booth I am sitting in. My hair is a tad floppier than usual, and my expression looks about as tired and blank as I think it does.
I take my first long gaze out the window since I have arrived. Is it cold outside? I bet it’s cold outside. The continuous gusts of wind sway the tops of the well kept hedges that line the store front. Beyond that, I can actually see into the window of a hospital room. I do not have great vision, but I can make out someone standing at the window in a hospital gown with an IV pole next to them. He/she paces back and forth a bit, then faces the window for a few minutes straight. I begin to wonder if this person can see me gazing at them and is returning the favor.
What is the reason to be up this late? For all I know it could be some battery of tests that must occur intermittently throughout the night that keeps the window gazer up. Then again, maybe they just have trouble sleeping or like staying up for the sake of it as I do right now.
3:38 AM. I have just dosed off for a presumed brief, but unknown, amount of time. I see Antonio once again; He probably has seen me asleep with my head cocked back and my mouth wide open snoring. I hope we can still be friends. I begin to fear more and more rule breaking will follow.
4:24 AM. I am at the point where my eyes close heavily before I pop up again. The cycle dosing in and out tempts me to purchase a cup of coffee, but I the sleepiness takes the side of the apple and quesadilla inside me to beg me not to add any caffeine into the mix. Instead, I settle on a trip to the apparently puked-in bathroom to splash some cold water on my face.
4:26 AM. Yep. Someone has definitely puked in here. I say again, please tip generously here. The commode grants me a second, much closer opportunity to look at myself in the mirror. Bags have settled under my eyes and my shoulders look a bit hunched and heavy. A few cupped hands worth of cold water to the face definitely perks me up a bit. It is short lived. I the walk back to the table is enough effort to take away the shock of the cold water. Should I pull the fire alarm? I would never be expected to stay then. No, 24 hours in a holding cell just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
4:59 AM. The chefs have turned off the grills for the time being to devote their efforts towards scrubbing down the heavily-used stove tops. All that can be heard are the squeaks and scrapes of kitchen equipment being cleaned and reassembled. I have not seen Antonio for a long time now. We were supposed to be hanging out by this point. Perhaps he went home, off to sleep. That seems nice right about now.
6:07 AM. Sleep has gotten the better of me. I wake up and crack my neck, stiff from sleeping in my progressively more comfortable booth. The rules are now broken, but that approximate hour of sleep was the greatest thing I have experienced since my arrival seven hours ago.
6:31AM What is that familiar glow? My body perks up and my mind suddenly becomes far more active than it has been throughout the duration of my endeavor. I lift my head off of the crook of my arm resting on the table and see sunlight. For some reason, the only thing that can come to mind is Robin Williams shouting, “GOOOOOD MOOOORNING VIETNAAM!”
I lethargically pick myself up from my table and begin slowly shoving my things into my backpack. I begin to rush out the door, but I turn around for one final look at my temporary home. I really thought I would get something out of that. But the lights remain glowing and the restaurant remains empty as the staff seems to be slowly stirring the back to prep for breakfast. I will give it to Epicurean: if it is anything, it is consistent. I push through the glass doors out into the morning cold. A gust of wind rattles through me; all my body has known for the past 7 hours is room temperature. I hunch my shoulders and begin walking back home.
Epi, you will always be there, but do not expect me anytime soon.