Editor’s Note: This is one in a series of stories about what happens in Chicago overnight.
By Audrey Leon
“You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here,” is a familiar phrase heard by many Chicago club patrons around closing time. Late night restaurants are an attractive choice for many when the only goal in mind is to keep the night alive.
Late Night Thai, Roscoe Village
For those whose palates crave something more exotic, Late Night Thai at 1650 W. Belmont Ave. in Roscoe Village serves up noodles, fried rice and curries every Tuesday through Sunday from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.
The restaurant, located near the Pony Inn bar, is sparsely decorated, but well lit. One man takes orders while one man cooks the food in a side kitchen. Late Night Thai is a cash-only establishment, but customers can utilize the restaurant’s in-house ATM.
Owner Alan Julamoke greets customers with a warm smile from behind the counter of his cozy late night establishment. When customers are rude, however, Julamoke said he does not hesitate to return the attitude.
He has only called the police once in Late Night Thai’s two-year existence, Julamoke said. But that does not mean he has not seen a few characters over the years.
One man tried to pay Julamoke in cigarettes.
“One cigarette was $5,” Julamoke said. “He gave me five cigarettes thinking that would be enough.”
Late Night Thai’s clientele is a mix of bar hoppers, bartenders, bouncers, and cops just getting off work, Julamoke said. Julamoke, who also owns Asian Avenue on 1624 W. Belmont Ave., said Late Night Thai’s traffic is heaviest after 2 a.m. when most bars close in the area.
“Eighty percent of my customers are drunk by 4 a.m.,” Julamoke said. “They want everything quick and cheap.”
And Julamoke delivers on both accounts. Late Night Thai’s most popular dishes – Pad Thai and fried rice – are under $7.
“Pad Thai is popular because everyone knows it,” Julamoke said. “Eight out of 10 dishes served are Pad Thai.”
Clarke’s Diner, 930 W. Belmont Ave., in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood is a staple of late night cuisine, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner 24 hours a day for decades. Several bars in the area, such as Berlin, L&L Tavern, and Big City Tap, surround Clarke’s.
Clarke’s waitress Rosalinda Cadena has worked the late shift at the diner for almost three years and has seen just about everything.
“People come in drunk, rowdy,” she said. “It can be scary, but also great because they are happy.”
Cadena works two jobs, including Clarke’s, and said she does not prefer one shift over the other. “It’s hard,” Cadena admitted.
Clarke’s customers change each shift, Cadena said. In the morning, it is full of families; seniors flock to Clarke’s in the afternoon, and after midnight, Clarke’s customer base pours in from neighboring bars, she said.
The most popular menu items come from the breakfast column, according to Cadena.
“Eggs. Potatoes; pancakes, they eat all of it,” she said.
Vini’s Pizza, Lincoln Park
For those craving a hearty late night meal, Vini’s Pizza on 2429 N. Lincoln Ave. has something for all tastes from jumbo pizza slices and wings to Italian beef sandwiches and pasta.
Open until 4 a.m. every Thursday through Saturday, Vini’s Pizza offers Lincoln Park a rare late night option when most restaurants close up well before 3 a.m., with Allende, Qdoba and Chicago’s Dog House as exceptions to the rule.
Vini’s Pizza’s Lincoln Park location has only been open for two years but the company opened its first store in Palatine in 1984.
In its two years of operation, Vini’s Pizza was front and center when the Johnny Depp film “Public Enemies” shot at the neighboring Biograph Theater.
Patrons will find a black and white photo of Depp hanging near the daily specials as they approach the register to order. The cozy storefront has personalized wooden tables and chairs, but limited seating.
Manager Rosendo Diaz said Vini’s customers around 4 a.m. are a mix of college students and the late night bar crowd and they all want one thing.
“Any carb,” Diaz said. “Pizza, fries – anything breaded, fried, and greasy – they want it.”
Vini’s Pizza offers combo deals all day; for $4, late night foodies can get a jumbo slice of pizza and a soda. Want fries with that? Vini’s will include them for $1 extra.
Diaz, like Cadena, believes working the late-night shift is hard.
“It’s a whole different world,” he said. “You’ll see people who come in during the day and then come back at night; it is like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
“[Late night] is definitely for the young,” Diaz said.