Let’s Eat! Let’s Dance! Let’s Eat Again! Late-Night Living in Three Parts
For his New York Stories column, author and former Mudd Club doorman Richard Boch revisits five iconic breakfast spots of the late 70s and early 80s.
Last call was never what you wanted to hear. The only thing worse was the music winding down and the lights coming up, a dead beer bottle rolling across an almost empty dance floor—the final buzzkill. Oftentimes another round of drinks was in order to quiet the mind especially if the coke was gone and there wasn’t a Quaalude to be had. That’s when a 1980s-era, after-hours dive like The Nursery on Third Avenue or The Zodiac on Mercer Street in SoHo came in handy. If something splashier or slipperier was your idea of morning mania—well no problem—the sprawling Crisco Disco on far West 15th Street was always an option as long as you were willing to be frisked for weapons at the door. None of these places served breakfast or even offered a bowl of peanuts at the bar, but by 9 or 10am no one really cared much anyway.
Studio 54, Mudd or Danceteria happened earlier in the evening becoming just part of another night out. The moment at hand was where am I and what am I doing here when the Heineken-cocaine blur was either fading fast or heading toward coma. Luckily the pangs of hunger kept you breathing and awake.
Rather than digress let’s circle back in time to that 4am last call when we were deciding on the perfect or near-perfect spot for a bite to eat. Keeping in mind the nighttime-daytime inversion—and whether it’s about breakfast for dinner or dinner for breakfast—here’s a few old-time favorites. Let them be sources of inspiration for wherever 2023 might find you.
Dave’s Luncheonette: Sunrise on Canal Street
“I went down to the crossroad, baby, I looked east and west…” The legendary bluesman Robert Johnson might well have been talking about Broadway and Canal Street on any given morning. Sunrise to midnight and back around the clock, Dave’s Luncheonette sat at the intersection like a not-quite-shining beacon, serving coffee and egg-creams, eggs, bacon, hotdogs and knishes. Midway between the Holland Tunnel and the Manhattan Bridge, Dave’s stood out along that dark dirty passage between Brooklyn and New Jersey at a time when the expression Bridge and Tunnel was practically a slur.
It was a place to figure out your next move—the crossroads between day and night, between SoHo and what was slowly becoming Tribeca. Dave’s was also two blocks from the notorious Mudd Club and was the go-to spot for clubgoers before, during and after Mudd. It didn’t matter if you were a truck driver or a cab driver, a teenage Basquiat, a dominatrix or a club DJ, the donuts were fairly fresh, the coffee was slightly better than drinkable and the eggs had just the right touch of grease. In the daybreak hours between getting lost and getting home, Dave’s was always there to help.
The Brasserie: Staggering in from Everywhere
At some point in the late-night early-morning hours of the last century, spilling out of a Checker cab and wandering into the Brasserie on East 53rd Street was either a convenience or a diversion. Located in the Seagram’s Building, the place was the polar opposite of Dave’s Luncheonette, though both tolerated the hungry lost souls of last-call clubland with their own version of efficient service laced with a seen-it-all-before attitude. The eggs were pricier and the French Toast a bit more French while the clientele skewed from white-collar on the skids to rock idiocy to nightlife crash and burn.
Delphine Blue, a resident Ritz DJ and party girl, remembers both arriving but not leaving and leaving without any knowledge of how she arrived. Musician Richard Sohl loved the Brasserie simply because it was there, same as my friend’s club-hopping mother who was often planted at the bar wearing her trademark trench coat and beret. Didn’t matter if you were crossing town after crawling out of Studio 54 or simply making a midtown pitstop after a luckless night on a downtown dance floor—the Brasserie was a popular spot offering a bit of calm both before and after the storm.
Wo Hop: Egg Foo Something on Mott Street
Wo Hop was—and still is—a Chinatown subterranean comfort zone in the form of an old-fashioned Chop-Suey-style Chinese restaurant. With occasionally tasty excursions into wontons filled with mystery, egg rolls of the pork or shrimp variety and classic renderings of Chow Mein and Egg Foo whatever, the place was a bit of a refuge during the lost hours when there was no telling what time of day it actually was.
Opened in 1938 and still going strong, Wo Hop is one of only two survivors on this roster of late night-early morning-mid day dining meccas offering cheap to reasonably priced fare often needed to fuel up, sober up and move into next round of NYC Nightlife. Like much of the city, the restaurant lives on as legend, conjuring up a bit of magic in both memories and egg rolls. The Formica tabletops, the wontons and the pineapple duck, if you’re so inclined, are all just part of the atmosphere or—as people like to say—the mood.
Gray’s Papaya: Desperation & Cheap Gratification
It’s midway through an after-hours morning, you’re not quite sure where everyone went and you’re nowhere near Chinatown or midtown. Another drink won’t do and the dealer you were hanging out with hours ago in a different basement in a different club is nowhere to be found. Sex even seems beyond the realm of possibilities, but strangely enough, the idea of two, fifty-cent hot dogs at Gray’s Papaya would certainly offer a bit of cheap, sausage-fueled gratification. Somehow, you still have your sunglasses, a few dollars in your pocket and there’s a cab waiting outside. All you have to do is slide into the backseat and try to say, “Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street, please. Just pull over—I’m running in and I’ll be right out.” It’s all very 1980s, another lifetime—and today it’s all just a dream.
Gray’s Papaya is still an institution of sorts, having been around since 1973. The Upper Westside spot remains open but the Greenwich Village location sadly closed in 2014 after serving millions of hot dogs and making cameo appearances in over a dozen films. Besides all that, it was always open at 8am.
The Kiev: The End of Time As We Knew It
An early night and running on an empty stomach—5am and it was time to refuel. The potential grease overload from Dave’s Luncheonette or the idea of egg rolls, Tropical Papaya shakes and hot dogs might’ve been too much to handle but there was always The Kiev at the corner of East 7th Street along the Ukrainian Pierogi Belt aka Second Avenue in the East Village. The Kiev, opening in 1978, was a twenty-four-hour diner-ish joint and welcome newcomer to an old, time-worn neighborhood with a rich history of freaks, egg creams and ethnic cuisine. There were other places like Leshko’s, Vaselka, and Odessa but The Kiev, with its non-décor and a menu of Ukrainian classics like Borsht, Kasha Varnishkis and Blintzes became the odd early AM favorite.
Sure, you could get eggs, toast, French fries and coffee, which might be all you needed when the sun was coming up and you were trying to avoid a 6am crash. But occasionally a hot bowl of Borscht and some Pierogis on the side could be the kind of fetish food-play you needed after a night of dancing downtown or drinking and socializing at local hangouts like Pyramid on Avenue A or 82 Club on East 4th Street. It was the kind of place where Allen Ginsberg might be at the next table with Quentin Crisp or Johnny Thunders with photographer Marcia Resnick—maybe John Belushi solo and talking to his Blintzes. Kiev was the place, both landing strip and springboard for where we came from and what was next. The last eight words seem to say it all.
WORDS Richard Boch
Richard Boch writes GrandLife’s New York Stories column and is the author of The Mudd Club, a memoir recounting his time as doorman at the legendary New York nightspot, which doubled as a clubhouse for the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Debbie Harry and Talking Heads among others. To hear about Richard’s favorite New York spots for art, books, drinks, and more, read his Locals interview—here.