“No, thank you,” said the waiter and went out. He disliked bars and bodegas. A clean, well-lighted cafe was a very different thing.

The Decatur Diner opened for business on February 14. It had been a long-awaited and much-anticipated opening, with Decaturites speculating about the new addition to our restaurant scene. The exterior of the building elicited comments, with an unconventional paint job and lots of neon. It occupied a high-profile street corner, at the intersection of Ponce de Leon and Church Street. The diner was to be a 24 hour operation, the first in as much Decatur history as I can recall.

Could our peaceful little burg really support a 24 hour establishment? Popular opinion seemed to say that it could, but I had some doubts.

Walking or driving by the diner in the weeks it has been open, I’ve seen that it looks consistently busy in the mornings, afternoons and early evenings. It offers a patio for when the weather is fine. Still I wondered, “Who is in there at four in the morning?”

(Well, OK, that’s not our actual diner, but it’s the image that comes to mind when I think of an all-night place.)

Finally, curiosity overcame good judgement. I set an alarm clock for 3:45 and at that unholy hour I set out to find out just who our local nighthawks were. Gallant husband insisted on joining me, saying he was in the mood for a western omelet, which I had difficulty believing, as moments earlier he had been deep in REM.

I’d never seen Decatur’s streets as dark and empty as they were that morning, driving east on Ponce de Leon. Not a pedestrian, not another car to be seen. We passed the Old Courthouse and suddenly there was the diner, in all its neon splendour, the light pouring out onto the sidewalks on the corner of Church and Ponce. With people in it. Lots of people.

There were several workingmen, a pair of young women (with laptops) I’d guess were students, a boisterous table of young people who looked as if they had just closed up a nightspot, a family group (ages from 2 to 62), two men in suits and ties conducting what was clearly a business meeting, a neatly dressed older man reading his paperback. And us. They were people who seemed to have little in common except, I guess, that they had wanted a clean, well lighted place in Decatur at four o’clock on a weekday morning. I can only speculate where any of them were going next, but I went home after finishing my eggs and grits, appetite and curiosity satisfied.

(Here’s the actual Decatur Diner, located at 205 East Ponce de Leon Avenue. They have an enormous menu with Greek specialities and standard diner fare. Also, if my reference to the Hemingway story made you want to read it, here’s a link to the full text.)
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4 Responses to Nighthawks?

  1. I greatly admire your determination and dedication to research! A 3:45 a.m. alarm so you can inform your readers about the middle-of-the-night patronage of a new diner…impressive! And after reading your report, I’m anxious to try the new place…although probably not at 4:00 a.m. Thanks for sacrificing precious morning sleep to report to us…hope your eggs and grits were delicious!

  2. mrssaba says:

    Very entertaining article! This occasional visitor to Decatur enjoyed the pictures, too–both the actual diner and the Hopper.

    • maryflad says:

      Hi, Mrs. Saba. Thank you for posting. I hope you’ll be a more frequent visitor to Decatur. (And I think with a better photographer, the diner could evoke the Hopper.)

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