Saturday, November 05, 2005

Mourning the Demise of the All-night Café

“You’re not like any other preacher I’ve ever known,” she said to me. “You’re not a conservative and you don’t warn me about going to hell.”

“Thanks,” I replied. “That’s one of the neatest things you’ve ever said to me. I’m not that kind of preacher. I don’t even see myself as a ‘preacher.’ Sometimes I may be a ‘teacher,’ but most of the time I am just another sojourner in this world trying to figure out what it’s all about and maybe sharing the road and the questions with whomever is walking with me.”

That’s as far as I had gotten in what I intended to be last night’s blog before the “hungries” attacked me. It was after midnight and, even on a Friday night, most of the restaurants, except for a few fast food chains, were closed. Fast food isn’t what I wanted or needed. So I climbed in my Honda CR-V and began looking for a café.

When I was an undergrad at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, there were a couple of cafes that remained open all or most of the night located in the vicinity of the campus. During late night study sessions—or all-night cramming sessions—my buddies and I could always take a break and find some good food.

Later, married and with kids, and as a graduate student at the University of Louisville, my study groups often met at a small café on the fringe of the U of L campus where we could work undisturbed until well after midnight. Even as a middle-aged seminary student in St. Louis, I could walk a block and a half from the dorm my family occupied at any hour of the day or night and obtain a grilled cheese sandwich to strengthen me for a few more hours of reading theology.

Last night, however, I found nothing but chain restaurants open—no cafes. There had once been an all-night café in the Highlands area of Louisville. But it now closed at 11:00 p.m. The cuisine of Steak ‘n Shake did not appeal to my midnight hungries, nor did the breakfast menu of a Waffle House.

I went to Denny’s, where I hadn’t been since Candy and I would stop for a snack after I’d picked her up from work at 4:00 a.m. Of course, Candy hadn’t worked in some time and I’d not been there in a couple of months. In that time the menu had changed, the prices had risen in the same manner as gasoline, and the service had dropped in like manner. After fifteen minutes of sitting at a small table and being ignored by the waitresses, I left.

What I am saying is that I mourn the demise of those small, independently owned all-night cafés that in the not to distant past one could find everywhere. Like small specialty shops that no longer exist because of Wal-marts and the like, they had been overwhelmed and driven out of business by the chain restaurants and what my father used to call “hamburger joints.” When the hungries attack in the wee hours of the morning and one desires a bowl of soup or a grilled cheese sandwich, there is now nowhere to go.

So, after an hour of searching, I returned home and searched my almost bare cupboard. I ate a bit of cheese and what was left of a box of crackers. By the time I had finished, the muse that had directed my thoughts had left me, and so I’ll have to finish the post I had begun at some later time.


  1. I know what you mean. People get all maudlin and teary eyed about the "family farmer," but all the other family owned businesses have disappeared, too.

    What made Route 66 the stuff of legend was all the independent restaurants, motels, and gas stations. Today, our interstates are nothing but chains and franchises.

    It's a shame. It really is.

  2. Note to you - any restaurant that is open 24 hours (like Denny's) can't fumigate for bugs and rodents. I am just saying.

  3. Thomas: I agree. When I was a child living in the west end of Louisville, there was a small, family owned grocery—Shaughnessy’s Market—a block and a half from my house. They had one of those old fashioned Coca-Cola dispensers where one had to slide the bottle along the rack and then pull it through a kind of turn-style release. I would deposit my nickel (that was a long time ago) and I could usually slide the bottle to the release, but pulling it up was always a problem. However, Mrs. Shaughnessy would always be there, standing behind me, ready to assist me. Likewise with Mr. Moneypenny and his hardware store. These merchants knew my name and where I lived and we friends. We don’t get that with chain stores.

    Country Fried Girl: Wow! That’s something I hadn’t considered. And with the sign that says they are open 24-hours, 365 days a year, it most never be done!

  4. ex-Louisville Guy Retired in TucsonSunday, November 06, 2005 1:01:00 AM

    I enjoyed your comments about the lack of all-night eateries - except of the fast food type. Made me remember the one that use to be on the corner of 5th and Chestnut - think it was the White Swan (some may have called it the "Greasy Spoon." Several summers I worked downtown - often midnight to 8 a.m. - at ADT then at 4th and Market. Someone always would make a "supper/snack" trip to the White Swan about 3 a.m. May have been "greasy" but still a menu of selections and a great grilled cheese and shake.

  5. I have never been to an all-night cafe. I don't even know where ine is. I think I'd like the experience!

  6. Ex-Louisville Guy Retired in Tucson: Thanks, Jim(?) I don’t remember the White Swan; I wish it were still there!

    Abby: If the food is OK, I think you’d enjoy it over the usual chain resturaunt stuff!

  7. There are a few all night cafes here in Tucson.