For a town with such a reputation for partying, you’d think that New Orleans would have the breakfast scene for bartenders on lock—after all, this is a place where bars are open 24 hours. But despite its night-owl tendencies, the city sorely lacks a range of steady, decent options for service-industry folks working the graveyard shift. Truth be told? Breakfast options as a bartender in New Orleans are pretty crummy. Of course, “breakfast” often means something totally different for those folks whose work ends in the wee small hours of the morning. Typically, it’s eaten in two rounds: the first immediately after vacating their bar of employment, and another after waking up in late morning (or early afternoon) as a means of refueling before the cycle starts all over again.
It’s that all-important pre-sunrise meal, though, that’s a particularly daunting one. “Sadly, good places don't really go out of their way to offer options for late-night folk, even in a 24-hour town like New Orleans,” says bartender Nick Jarrett, who divides his time between the James Beard-finalist cocktail bar Cure and perennial dive bar favorite The Saint. “And [later on] I won't normally touch brunch spots: I’m not usually into eating with the folks I might’ve put out of the bar 10 hours earlier after no sleep.”
Mark Schettler, manager of Bar Tonique, agrees. “The biggest challenge when it comes to eating breakfast as a bartender in New Orleans is waking up in time for it! When you're leaving a 12-hour shift at 5 a.m., it's tough to then wake up in time for that early bird special, y’know?”
Schettler particularly longs for a few non-greasy-spoon options to enjoy post-shift. “The main thing that could be done to help super early morning eating is more healthy options. There's plenty of garbage food available at 4 a.m., but after 10 or 12 hours on your feet, shotgunning beers, turning out round after round, and then 2 hours of cleaning, your body feels bad enough.”
Despite the middling quality of the food and relatively unconventional breakfast hour(s), though, bartenders still have to eat. And often, their after-work snacking patterns become as much a part of nightly ritual as locking up.
When longtime Big Daddy’s bartender Jazz Zeringue gets off at 3 a.m., she’s partial to the All-Star Special at Waffle House, a spread that boasts a veritable pantheon of breakfast heavy-hitters including sausage, bacon, ham, eggs (your way!), grits, toast, a dinner-plate-sized waffle, and a cup of coffee. The Mayfair Lounge’s Uriah Hilton skews the other direction, opting only for a 5 a.m. bowl of plain oatmeal. And at the Uptown neighborhood joint 45 Tchoup, bartender Chris Herrington craves the chili cheese fries from nearby diner Slim Goodie’s as he wraps up his shift at [gulp] 9 a.m.
The night I embarked on my whirlwind quest to figure out what bartenders eat for breakfast, a few oddly philosophical breakfast questions gurgled in the back of my mind. By the time I headed to the final watering-hole interview, my thoughts had started to sound like those of a young stoner pondering the meaning of life for the first time: “What is exactly is breakfast anyway, man? Is breakfast, like, a construct? If you eat a falafel sandwich at 5 a.m., does it, like, become breakfast?”
“Certainly, for late-night weekend bartenders, most aren't looking for ‘breakfast’ when they get off a graveyard shift, so much as looking for a beer,” Jarrett muses. “And that's a different breakfast story entirely.”
I’d like to think that Jarrett (and the Replacements song) is onto something. Sure, it doesn’t fit within the traditional breakfast mold, but there’s a kind of freeing anonymity in those post-shift, pre-dawn hours to chow down on whatever you’re really craving, from a swigging a beer to double-fisting a couple of Whoppers. You do you. After a night spent taking care of everybody else, bartenders more than deserve whatever their hearts desire as the sun slowly creeps up over the horizon, breaking their fast with a momentary indulgence.