I work at a bar in the French Quarter that is open 24 hours on weekends. Sometimes I work mornings, sometimes I work nights, and sometimes I work at times that I don’t really know what to call it. I eat breakfast for lunch and lunch for dinner, so it’s necessary that I have a 24-hour diner nearby to complement the inside-out schedule that I’m forced to adapt to. The lack of a 9-to-5 p.m. structure makes me rely on such establishments in order to maintain stability and a sense of normalcy.
So, as ironic as it may sound, the Clover Grill keeps me sane.
The Clover Grill on Bourbon Street and I have gotten to know each other pretty well over the past couple of months. She’s seen me at my best and she’s seen me at my worst. But regardless, she never judges me. And I don’t judge her. She reels in an eccentric crowd of like-minded service industry folk, local regulars, some French Quarter tourists and all the stragglers in between. No matter what time of day it is, she’s hustling and bustling to get you that caffeine fix you so desperately need, complete with a side of hash browns.
About a week or two ago, I was biking home from the bar at about 2 a.m. and was startled when I noticed that The Clover’s lights were turned off. I wasn’t even planning to stop in for some food; I had leftovers in my fridge. But it was then that I realized how much I depend on her chronic insomnia to keep me going. If this chick is in bed, I thought, then I should be, too. I looked at the eerie darkness around me and felt like the only person in the French Quarter still awake. The following day, a co-worker informed me that the grill was undergoing renovations and she would be open for service again that weekend. I breathed a deep sigh of relief.
And as a bartender, days and nights sort of melt into one long string of time that lacks a definitive beginning and end. So what happens when that diner of yours closes? It’s as if time becomes visible again. Your body starts to feel your crooked sleep cycle and lopsided eating schedule. And this is why places like the Clover Grill are essential to our well-being. They give you the opportunity to order a burger or an omelet when it feels right for you. Because how can you call something morning if you have not gone to sleep yet?
Almost a year after moving from New York City, I sometimes wonder whether the person who gave that place the nickname The City That Never Sleeps ever met New Orleans. The only person I really trust around here to tell me what time or day of the week it is is Siri.
Regardless of whether or not you’re in the service industry, though, we all find ourselves in these vulnerable situations when we need a good old-fashioned diner to help us get it together. Because whether its 5 a.m. or 5 p.m., there’s something about having a coffee at the counter of your local 24-hour diner that magically makes you feel like a real person again.
If there’s one type of food establishment we could use more of in this city, it’s this. In the mean time, I’m pretty satisfied with the Clover Grill and her freshly painted pink walls. When you go, order the chicken-fried steak and eggs – not only is it the best thing on the menu, in my opinion, but it’s very versatile.
The combination of a breakfast and dinner staple makes it an easy choice for morning, evening, or sometime in between the two. A moment when you would just rather not know what time it is.
Joey Albanese writes about the twenty-something generation in New Orleans for NolaVie. Send him questions or tell him the answers at firstname.lastname@example.org.