Rise and grind: Meet the night owls of Athens who make late night cram sessions possible

Pulling your first all nighter is a right of passage for college students. From the copious amount of energy drinks you consume, to the way your eyes seem to melt into the back of their sockets, to discovering that your laptop totally makes a great pillow after 4 a.m.  Nothing screams college more than busting out an eight page research paper in the back of a coffee shop while the rest of the world catches some Z’s.

Economics senior Mari Otero looks over her Econ notes shortly after 2 a.m. at Union Street Diner

But what about the people who support those late nights? Someone has to make that triple espresso that you have IV’d to your arm, and play the latest acoustic jams that mellow out the early morning.

We hate to see them but we love their work. Their presence not only signals third shift is about to begin, but also the realization that you probably shouldn’t have procrastinated so much on your projects. They’re the brave men and women who make it possible for you to pump out a semester’s worth of work in a single night. Whether you need some early morning fuel or a late night pick me up, they have your back. They’re the early risers and night owls who work in the coffee shops and diners in town.

At Ohio University,  three local spots are known by everyone. Donkey Coffee at 17 1/2 W. Washington St., Brenen’s Coffee Cafe at 38 S. Court St. and Union Street Diner at 70 W. Union St. have been servicing the Athens crowd for 13, 16 and five years respectively. Customers are guaranteed to always be greeted by a smiling face, even if their own face isn’t so lively.

Brenen’s Coffee Cafe

Brenen’s was founded in 2000 and has been a huge hit ever since. Pittsburgh native Erin Pogue, a senior studying strategic communications, has been working at the cafe since fall 2013, her freshman year. Pogue works a varying schedule of opening and closing shifts but definitely prefers to open.

“I think the best part about an opening shift is how calm Athens is at that time,” she said. “It’s usually before most other students are getting their days started so you can really notice how peaceful Court Street can be walking into work.”

Beautiful scenery aside, getting in at 6 a.m. throughout the week for work still isn’t a fun time. When asked about the downside of opening, Pogue commented:

“The worst part is definitely waking up. Luckily, working at a coffee shop makes it easy to get some caffeine in me once I get in.”

There are some saving graces that come with the sunrise shift though. Pogue says she loves seeing the regulars who come through every morning, along with her coworkers.

“We have a great staff working at Brenen’s. It makes a big difference when you have a great team working with you and keeping things running smoothly when you work together. Going into work is always easier when you get to work with friends and have a lot of fun while getting the job done.”

When asked if she’s ever witnessed anything weird or noteworthy during her closing shift, Pogue had one oh-so-Athens story.

Erin Pogue preps the coffee machines
Erin Pogue preps coffee machines during a slow period during her shift

“You never know what you’re going to get when you have a closing shift on a busy weekend,” she said. “A guy came in off Court Street in a falling-apart costume, couldn’t manage to form full sentences when trying to tell us his order, then grabbed a baguette off the counter and ran out before we even had time to finish his sandwich. Luckily he had already paid!”

It’s like Bobcats say, “Athens happens.”

Donkey Coffee and Espresso

Six hundred and sixty three feet down the street and around the corner, just off the intersection of Court Street and East State is another Athens favorite, Donkey Coffee and Espresso. Open since 2003 and ran by Chris and Angie Pyle, Donkey has successfully been serving the locals “caffeine with a conscience” and has a long history of giving the town a space to be creative.

Moira Snuffer, a sculpture and expanded practice senior from Columbus, has been working at Donkey since June 2015.  She mainly works the opening shift, which means crawling out of bed and getting into the shop by 6:30 a.m.

Moira Snuffer, opening Donkey Barista, is all smiles, even at 7 a.m.
Moira Snuffer, opening Donkey barista. All smiles, even at 7 a.m.

Her favorite part about opening is getting a chance to just be by herself and start the day at her own pace.

“Opening is kinda nice because you’re by yourself and it’s this time to have your space,” Snuffer said. “It’s a nice way to start your day—to be here by yourself and do monotonous work.”

While nothing too crazy has ever happened during her closing shifts, she did have a story about an unexpected interaction this year on halloween:

Union Street Diner

Then there’s Union Street Diner, the go-to spot for anyone suffering from the late night munchies. The 24 hour mom and pop storefront has been in business since 2011 and caters to all walks of life, offering spacious seating, fair prices and friendly faces every hour of the day.

USD has personally reenergized me on multiple occasions (the BLT and pancakes are tier 1) and any place that offers milkshakes at 5 a.m. deserves a head nod.

My last visit to the diner introduced me to Ashley. Ashley has officially been working at Union Street Diner since August of this year, and strictly works third shift. Though working so late can be brutal, the shift time actually fits her overall schedule perfectly. Ashley and her husband are parents to a beautiful two-year-old so the odd times lets both of them work without the need of a babysitter. In regards to her coworkers, she loves them.

“We’re all very laid back. It’s a family here” she said.

While Ashley never went to college, she did become a certified nursing assistant when she was a junior in high school. When it comes to the few things she doesn’t enjoy about her job, Ashley simply can’t stand when students come in and vomit.

You can’t win them all.

Third year computer science major Justin Mosley takes a break from studying for his software tools exam
Third year computer science major Justin Mosley takes a break from studying for his software tools exam

6 Mood Foods at Union Street Diner

Tucked away off of Court Street and a tad off the beaten path lies a major key to the Athens food scene—Union Street Diner. Located at 70 West Union Street, Union Street Diner is a 24/7, all-day breakfast diner.

Union Street Diner, or USD, is your typical, small-town greasy spoon. If you want some quaint and cozy diner, USD is not for you. The wobbly tables and funky wall art are what make the diner near and dear to the hearts of Athens locals and OU students alike.

So, when you’re bored sitting in your dorm with your friends at 2 a.m., suggest going to USD. This will bring about your first trip to one of many Athens gems. And when you sit down in those green booths, you’ll ask yourself, “What do I order?”

Here are some choices depending on how your first year at OU has been treating you.

Missing home: It’s okay to miss home and miss mom and/or dad’s cooking. But you’ve taken the first step of getting out of your room to have fun with your friends. And USD has another solution for you.

Order: Homemade noodles over mashed potatoes, choice of vegetables, and dinner roll

Price = **Thursday lunch and dinner special for $6.99

You might be poor, but you always have money for USD.
I’m sure you can find $4.99 tucked away in your futon.

Balling on a budget: There might be some days when you feel like you need to sell your kidneys in order to pay for textbooks. That may be the case, but be sure to save a few bucks for USD.

Order: Grilled cheese—any of five cheeses (American, Cheddar, Swiss, Provolone, or Pepper Jack) on your choice of bread and served with fries

Price = a whopping $4.99

You can't go wrong when ordering this meal. It's one of my favorites!
When you’re stressed out from the crazy college life, order a grilled chicken sandwich.

Stressed from playing college: You probably thought that high school was the most stressed out you’ve ever been with the ACT and SAT. College is stressful but so much more fun because you’re living on your own and learning how to adult. So just take some deep breaths and know that everyone is just as overwhelmed as you are.

Order: Grilled chicken sandwich on a corn-dusted Kaiser bun and served with lettuce, tomato, red onion, and fries.

Price = $6.99

Starving: There’s always the stereotype that every college student eats Ramen but I have never had a bowl in my 22 years of being on this earth. I do know that you can only eat Nelson and Shively dining hall food for so long.

Order: South of the Border burger—Fresh ground sirloin seasoned with Kosher salt and black pepper, grilled onions, tomatoes, bell & banana peppers, smothered by garden salsa, and melted Pepper Jack cheese and served with fries

Price = $9.59

Happy to be alive: Adjusting to life in college isn’t always a smooth transition. But if you’re loving your classes and making tons of friends, go ahead and satisfy your taste buds.

Order: Three chocolate chip pancakes

Price = $5.89

Indecisive: “What do you want to eat?” “I don’t care. What do you want to eat?”

Order: Chicken tenders served with two sides and a dinner roll

Price = $8.99

Other popular USD dishes include: mac and cheese bites ($5.99), deep fried pickles (5.49), chili cheese fries ($6.18), cheesecake (price not listed), western omelet ($7.59)


They're $3.99 and you can choose from vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, or cookies and cream.
I always have to give in and buy a USD milkshake.

PSA: Always order water because it’s the cheapest (free). If you’re feeling rich, go ahead and splurge on one of USD’s awesome homemade milkshakes!

If the pizza deliveryman knows you by name, I’d highly consider grabbing a group of friends and taking a walk to USD. The sooner you go, the better. You don’t want to have the next four years pass you by and be THAT person that says they’ve never been to USD. Seriously, don’t be that person. Oh, and don’t worry, they have free WiFi.

Top 7 relationships in Athens, Ohio

We have all heard about the Hollywood celebrity dating scene, but I bet you didn’t know we have our own celebrity couples in Athens, Ohio. The rich and famous have made their way to our college town and I bet you run into them more than you think. That’s right, I’m talking about the bars and restaurants that are open after dark. We crowd them, take pictures, and follow their every move. You have been so focused on your favorite that I’m sure you haven’t noticed that they are all secretly in relationships. It’s true, and we have the inside scoop for you!


Jackie-O’s and Uptown Grill

Let’s start with two of the most famous establishments in Athens, Jackie-O’s and Uptown Grill. These love birds have been eyeing each other from across the street for years. After hanging out, listening to music, and enjoying the unique beers Jackie-O’s has, you can walk down the street and order the famous Chicken and Waffle sandwich. This is one couple you do not want to mess with.


Big Mamma’s Burritos and Casa Nueva

Big Mamma’s Burritos and Casa Nueva is one couple that is juat too hot to ignore. They are both so bold, but together would be a powerhouse. If you start to get hungry after too many margaritas, your next stop should be Big Mamma’s for one of their signature burritos. While there is a separation between them, these star crossed lovers can’t be separated. Te amo!


Broney’s Alumni Grill and D.P. Dough

Our next couple may be long distance, but Broney’s Alumni Grill and D.P. Dough will always be close at heart. With the word “alumni” in the name, it’s safe to assume that a lot of alums visit while reliving their glory days. Since they are veterans, they know how to beat the hangovers. They can order their calzones and meet it in the hotel, just in time for bed!


Tony’s and Insomnia Cookies

What is better than cookies and coffee? Nothing. Tony’s and Insomnia Cookies is a match made in Heaven. After drinking a Hot Nut, a mixture of coffee and liquor, the only thing that would make your night better would be a warm cookie! The best part is that Insomnia is open until 3 am, so you can pick it up on your way home!


Pigskin and Kisers on Court BBQ

Life would be a “boar” without Pigskin and Kiser’s BBQ together. This relationship was a no brainer. Nothing goes together like beer, BBQ, and country music. These two have just that! Kiser’s on Court is now open until 3 am on Friday and Saturday. This combination would be the perfect “cure” for any weekend night!


Union Street Diner, Cat’s Den, and The Smiling Skull

Here in Athens, Ohio, we don’t judge. When we heard that Union Street Dinner, Cat’s Den, and The Smiling Skull were in a relationship together, we welcomed them with open arms. All three of these places are located on Union Street and you can’t have one without the other. While these bars are considered “townie” bars, students just can’t resist them. After listening to the music and sitting on the patio, the only other logical stop would be the dinner. Thankfully it’s open 24/7.


Buffalo Wild Wings

And, of course, there’s always that one friend that will fall into the “forever alone” category. That friend is Buffalo Wild Wings. This restaurant serves food and alcohol late into the night. Between the beer, wings, and giant TV’s, why would you need anything else? Don’t worry BW3’s; we still love you!

Since the lifestyles of the rich and famous are constantly changing, what relationships are your favorites? Comment below and tell us your favorite duo in Athens, Ohio. You never know who might be next!

All photos and graphics of Athens, Ohio were taken and made by Hannah Funderburg

Last call prompts quest for late-night eats

Ohio University is one of those schools where you know you can find a good drink or two — or however many you want. And you can’t have good, cheap beer or a liquor pitcher without some good, greasy, cheap food to go along with it. And no surprise, Athens is not lacking in late-night eats. But how can anybody choose just one? Especially after a few too many beers.

From massive Big Mamma’s Burritos to the classic Chicken N Waffle from Uptown Grill, you can go on an epic journey to find a piece of grub (or two or three … maybe four) that will tickle your fancy and absorb some of that alcohol.

It’s about 2 a.m. It’s a typical Friday night (Saturday morning, really) in Athens. The street lights reflect off of the bricks. There’s the “thump-thud” of bass coming from the apartments above, and the streets of lower Court Street are swarming with girls, guys, townies, and all manner of college-aged young people migrating in and out of the multiple bars that line the road. And as these bars ring  “final call” bells, the flood of drunk coeds starts to trek to their next destination. Some go home, whether it be their own home or someone else’s. But a lot of these inebriated folks head toward their favorite late-night eateries, where they can chow down on the quick, cheap, and greasy delicacies that make drinking in Athens all worth it.

Rachel Daub is one of those coeds.

Top 10 spots for late-night eats
Top 10 spots for late-night eats — click  image for larger version

Daub, an Ohio University senior majoring in publication design, is no stranger to Uptown Athens. If you run into her after a night of beers and shots, she’ll most likely be on her way to Jimmy John’s or GoodFella’s, ready to get her fix of a slimy sandwich or a corner-piece pizza.

“It’s pretty much the known outcome of the night,” Daub says. “They are my go-tos. On rare occasions my friends might be able to persuade me into going somewhere else, but it’s usually either GoodFella’s, Jimmy Johns, or nothing.”

Her friend Emily Brockmann, a familiar comrade in Daub’s nights of drinks and chow, is also an avid GoodFella’s enthusiast.

“I feel like I’m always craving pizza no matter what time of the day it is so when I’m drunk I’m craving it even more. It’s greasy and saucy and cheesy, which is always 10 times better when you’re drunk and it’s so easy to eat too that I just love it so much.”

Preventing hangovers since 1995, GoodFella’s has two locations within walking distance, one on West Union Street and one near the end of Court Street. With pizza served hot and ready, and two slices plus a drink for $5, it’s no wonder the pizza joint is a late-night favorite. Hannah Cook, a GoodFella’s employee since 2010, says the laid-back atmosphere makes it a great place to work and an even better place to buy food.

“Even in the midst of crazy drunkenness and having to deal with people, it’s a very easy-going place,” she says.

Another late night top-dog, the mother of all burrito babies, is Big Mamma’s Burritos. Big Mamma’s serves burritos the size of a small child. Perfect for the nights where you don’t need a snack, but need a full-fledged meal. Spicy meat, gooey cheese, veggies and all kinds of tasty sauce blend together to form the perfect alcohol-absorbing system. This staple of Athens culture is a bucket-list must for any student who claims to attend Ohio University.

Melaina Lewis, a senior majoring in public relations, takes a timeout from her night of bar hopping to sit on the steps of the Athens Courthouse and enjoy a Big Mamma’s Chipotle Ranch burrito.

“It’s fantastic,” she says. “I’ve had so many of these since I’ve been at OU and I never get tired of them. And luckily they sell mini-sized burritos because I don’t know if I’d be able to consume a whole child-sized one by myself.”

With dozens of combinations, Big Mamma’s provides unlimited options for the ever-indecisive drunk. And as Lewis notes, the fact that they offer smaller burritos for only $6 makes it a great place for those who want a burrito, just maybe not a human-baby-sized one.

And despite being notorious for long lines and a chaotic atmosphere, Big Mamma’s continues to compete with GoodFella’s for the top spot in the heart of late night eaters.

“I waited for about 10 minutes for my burrito,” says Lewis. “But it was definitely worth it. There are always fun characters and things happening in Big Mamma’s and it all just adds to the experience.”

So what is it about GoodFella’s, Big Mamma’s and the rest of these late night eateries that are so appealing to Ohio University students and drinkers alike?

“I think that owners of these places just know that now is the opportune moment to make these kinds of food available,” says Lewis. “We’re young and in college, so obviously we’re going to be drinking excessively and then not caring about what we want to eat, so the combination of drunkenness and bad judgment makes it a total win for them.  And us.”

Whether it’s grab-and-run places like GoodFella’s and Uptown Grill, or sit-down and chill places like Union Street Diner and Wendy’s, the combination of drunkenness and good food can make eating at these restaurants an experience to remember. And adding old friends and new friends into the mix can make it even better.

“These restaurants are usually places where you end up meeting people randomly, so that’s always a good outcome,” explains Daub. “And events like HallOUween or Santa Fest are the kind of nights that are awesome to see people dressed up in costumes that are standing in line for a slice of pizza or a sandwich. And then running into your friends and having that common goal of food after drinking is always a great moment.“

Of course, as one can expect when alcohol is involved, there are a few horror stories that happen at the late night eateries.

“I saw the best, funniest fight,” says Daub. “I was in Wendy’s one night and these two guys got in a fist-fight over a frosty. That’s probably the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.”

And as an employee at one of the most popular joints in Athens, Cook has seen her fair share of crazy.

“People have thrown pizza across the place, and there’s been some barfing incidents, which is never fun. We had someone try and come in through the back door and steal a case of Gatorade.  Things like that happen a lot.”

Just as Robin Hood is the sidekick to Batman, late night eats are the sidekick, wingman, and accessory to the bars that line the streets of Athens. They’re the celebration after the big game. A standing ovation after a great performance. Without these places, would nightlife in Athens be as fun? Maybe. But there is definitely a great amount of value added to a night out because of these fantastic food establishments. And graduation will always come too soon for OU seniors to bear.

“I think that since I’ve turned 21, the bars and GoodFella’s have been like my go-to combination,” say Daub. “That’ll definitely be something I miss when I move away, I won’t be able to satisfy my cravings for GoodFellas or anything that comes as good and as cheap as drinks and food on Court Street.”


Mallory Haack is a senior at Ohio University in the School of Visual Communication majoring in publication design & information graphics, with a minor in art.  She recently completed an internship at the Gannett Design Studio in Nashville and is currently employed as a graphic designer for the Patton College of Education.  She loves to travel and has been to London, Paris, Sydney, Mexico, etc. 


Late-night eavesdropping at Union Street Diner

Breakups, blowjobs and Boom-Boom sauce — not the standard topics of conversations at meal time. But then again, late night weekend dining in Athens, OH, is anything but standard. It is midnight on Friday, Nov. 8, 2014, as I enter the Union Street Diner. This particular Friday is the first night of Dad’s Weekend at Ohio University, and the start of my eavesdropping experiment.

Come along as I see what really happens when diners think no one is paying attention.

12:03 a.m. I arrive and order an unsweetened iced tea and onion rings from Molly, my server.

12:04: Iced Tea arrives

Four Girls sit across from me. All order water.

— “If I keep looking (at the menu), I’m going to stress myself out.”

— “We can’t get onion rings and pickles.”

— “I’m going to get breakfast, but I’m also going to get chili.”

— “Boom-Boom sauce is amazing.”

12:08: Onion rings arrive, Four Girl table still contemplating the menu 

12:14: Four Girl table places order.

— “I’m so glad we were like, ‘Let’s leave this place and go eat.’”

12:15: I’m four (very large) onion rings deep and ready for a nap. I may have overcommitted.

12:16: Make that five onion rings.

12:19: Chili arrives at Four Girl table.

— “Josie is probably like, ‘This bitch ordered breakfast and chili like what the fuck.”

Not sure who Josie is or how she feels about breakfast/chili combos.

12:22: They are talking about someone named Brad. They say his name six times.

12:23: Two Guys seated behind me.

12:24: Four Girls’ food arrives. I wish I would’ve ordered French toast.

12:27: Two Guys contemplate the menu – and life.

— “Dude what the fuck? Get your life together. Should I get the frisco melt?”

12:28: From Two Guys table:

— “I only have four dollars.”

12:32:  Chile-for-Breakfast Girl at Four Girls table makes a discovery.

— “Oh my god! They gave me four eggs. They were only supposed to give me three.”

12:35: Two Guys table orders. Four Dollar Guy orders a steak dinner.

12:37: Four Girl table is getting quieter; Two Guys table is getting louder.

12:40: Guy #1 and Guy #2 are now exchanging blow job stories. Loudly.

12:41: The term “food-coma” had been thrown down at the Four Girl table. The two girls on the inside of the booth are now leaning against the wall.

12:43: At this point, I now know too much about the Two Guys’ sex lives. I will not make eye contact with them when they leave.

12:46: Table of Three arrives and is seated diagonally from me. They single handedly increase the volume of the entire restaurant.

12:46: Two Guys are discussing hookup etiquette.

 — “Kicking girls out in the morning sucks. I feel like such a douchebag. ” (sidebar: you are)

— “Why do you have to kick them out?”

— “Because it’s just what you do.”

12:48: Two Guys’ food arrives

12:49: Five Guys are now seated across from me. (I’m praying for no more sex stories.)

— “Should I get ‘food’ food or just get dessert?”

— “I’ve got a hankering for breakfast.”

12:51: Molly the server is now taking care of Four Girls, Two Guys, Five Guys, and me.

12:52: Four Girls get their checks and leave.

12:52: Five Guys get out of the booth and rearrange their seats.

12:53: Two Girls arrive and land diagonally from me. Molly is also serving them now.

12:56: Molly gave the guy at the Table of Three a high five. I don’t know why.

12:58: A couple is seated where the Four Girls were. The guy touches the table. Looks at his hand. He then pulls out a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer.

1:00: The table of Five Guys has ordered. The kid contemplating just getting dessert did in fact get just dessert. (Apple pie a la mode)

1:01: Five Guys are creating a Russian-roulette inspired game with sugar and salt.

1:02: Game over. Someone named Jake lost.

— “I say we make this a thing every time we come to USD.”

— “What was the point of that game?”

1:05: I order a chicken salad sandwich and a side of fruit.

1:06: From Five Guys:

— “Wait guys. Look at each other very lovingly.”

1:08: The diner seems to be at its peak. I’m starting to get a few awkward looks from customers. #LonelySyd

 It has come to the point where I can’t hear any table’s full conversation.

1:11: Something smells amazing, and I hate myself for not ordering whatever it is.

1:12: Fruit arrives. I’ve decided honeydew is a completely underrated fruit.  

1:15: Five Guys table is now coming up with Tom Hank’s greatest films. Everyone seems pretty excited about Castaway.

Photo by Sydney Gardner
Photo by Sydney Gardner

1:15: Two Guys get their bills.

1:16: Two Guys leave. It’s been a little too real.

1:17: Someone at the Five Guys table is attempting to snort sugar. Possibly just for a picture. I’m too afraid to look.

1:18 Chicken salad arrives.

1:19: From Five Guys table:

— “Whenever I am drunk, I want to start an emo band.”

— “Did you just fall asleep?”

1:21: I have not heard a single conversation between the couple at the table Four Girls vacated.

1:23: A member of Five Guys table is having an internal struggle with his drunk cravings.

 — “I haven’t eaten meat in 10 years, but whenever I’m drunk I want chicken.”

1:25: I’m hitting the wall and in desperate need of a rally nap.

1:27: I think a couple in the corner is breaking up. I‘m debating live-tweeting it.

1:28: Girl in the Breakup Couple is doing lots of dramatic head nods and has a lip quiver.

1:29: Boy in Breakup Couple just walked away.

1:31: Boy in Breakup Couple returns.

1:33: A large group arrives and blocks my view of the Breakup Couple

1:34: All of the conversations seem to be slowing down. The Five Guys table is now talking about feminism.

1:35: Actually, it’s one guy talking about feminism with no response from the other four.

1:35: — “The whole point of the movement is to end the movement.”

1:36: Waitress brought me my check without me asking for it.  I got the hint. I’m going to see if I can stretch this out until 2.

1:37:  Actual quote from Five Guys table:

— “There’s less opportunity for him to get pregnant.”

1:40: Three people are now in the booth the non-talking couple vacated. Two of them are making out.

1:41: Feminism talk is still going. Other guys have begun to chime in.

1:43: From the guy at the table with Makeout Couple:

— “How do you feel about Ray Rice.”

— “No, that was Jay-Z.” (Not sure where that came from.)

1:44:  From Five Guys table:

— “The one with the megaphone isn’t always right.”

1:45: Quitting time.

While I pack up my things and make my way through the maze of waiting patrons and waiters, it is clear that the almost two hours I spent at the Union Street Diner is just a small slice of what goes on during any given weekend. The place is still packed and hungry groups continue to get their fill of diner classics. The conversations might change, but the atmosphere stays the same. The blast of cold that hits me as I exit shocks me out of the food coma that comes with a meal at the diner. Luckily, I know that feeling will always come with a trip to Union Street Diner.  See you next weekend, USD.

Photo by Sydney Gardner
Photo by Sydney Gardner

Sydney Gardner is a junior strategic communications major at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. She hopes to one day pursue a career in public relations, but until then you can find her on looking at cat videos online or on LinkedIn.