Columbus After Dark: Eulogy for the 24-Hour Diner

Kristen Schmidt

The 24-hour restaurant is comfortably predictable, like our favorite slippers, scruffy but irreplaceable. A booth will be waiting to prop up your tired (and quite possibly inebriated) bones. The service hovers between no-nonsense and nurturing-after all, you're someone out looking for a meal in the middle of the night. The food is neither the best you've had nor the worst, but it's inevitably just the right kind of food, sizzled on a flat-top or plunged into a deep fryer. There will be carbs. Loads of them. Simple ones, too.

In Columbus, we have these moments at places like Fitzy's on the North Side near the Budweiser plant, or Tee Jaye's, with its neon beacon, or at Buckeye Donuts or Waffle House if by a bizarre twist of fate we've wound up on Campus. But that's about it for 24-hour dining in the city. Hounddog's pizza, a stalwart of the 24-hour dining scene, dialed back to merely nearly 'round the clock hours a couple of years ago.

Despite the old adage, good things do happen after 1 a.m., and even 2 a.m. A perfect grilled cheese and tomato sandwich with a mess of golden fries on the side happens after 1 a.m. So does a fat Western omelet doused in Frank's hot sauce. Or a truly mediocre, but hot and greasy, burger plunked down on the table next to an ice-cold Coke in one of those giant red plastic tumblers.

All-night diners salve our Saturday night mistakes with comfort and warmth, if not the most flattering lighting. These are the places where we celebrate the night's triumphs, air-guitar the band's greatest solo one more time, fill our bellies before-finally-saying good night.