By Abe Villarreal
The Clover Grill may be located at one end of the historic and frenzied French Quarter in New Orleans, but through and through it is quintessentially small town American.
Close your eyes and think of the diners of yesteryear. The kind you could see Mickey and Judy sitting at, enjoying a strawberry malt while listening to their favorite Bing Crosby tune playing on the jukebox. The Clover Grill feels like that kind of place, but not exactly.
I sat at this corner restaurant every morning and every night for one week during a visit to New Orleans for a work conference. My hotel was just around the corner and the Clover Grill never closes. This is a good thing for morning people like myself and late night people like everyone else on Bourbon Street.
You see, the Clover Grill is a place for everyone. It’s the place you want to go to because it reminds you of a Norman Rockwell picture, and it’s the place you want to go to because nothing else tastes better after a night of celebration in this famed city of non-stop celebration.
Each morning I had my plate of over easy eggs, hashed potatoes, and toast. A cup of coffee and cream completed this simple but satisfying breakfast. And yet, the food was not the most memorable part of the experience. As I sat there, people from all over the world came in and out almost because it was the thing they were supposed to do.
There were the regulars. The folks that diners love to feed. They were greeted with hellos, and good morning honeys. The cook knew what they wanted and served it up quickly. Those regulars help fill up the tiny spaces in the already tiny place that is the Clover Grill.
The familiar metallic look of bar stools with red cushion tops form a line from one end to the other. The cooks wear those funny white hats you only remember from black and white photos. The windows are fogged up in the morning from the street cleaners who busily wash away nightly debris left behind from partygoers who are in town to experience the craziness that can be experienced in this coastal city.
No matter what is happening outside, the Clover Grill, open 24-7, keeps humming along. It looks and feels like the kind of place that doesn’t close. The décor is dated, and that’s O.K. but it makes you feel at home. The coffee machine never stops dripping. The grill, always hot.
In corporate America, minimum wage workers have cleaning schedules, mandated break time, and forced smiles. The Clover Grill is just like you and me. In some ways, it feels tired and drained. In other ways, it feels alive and young.
Because of its shoebox size, you can’t avoid hearing from its employees as they talk about their life’s worries. You listen to their complaints and frustrations. But it’s O.K., because you are going through the same thing.
I love old-style diners because they bring us together. They force us to sit close to each other. They make us talk to strangers. They create community in a time where we are less connected than ever before.
If you ever find yourself tired from a day of sight-seeing and walking through the worn out, colorful streets of New Orleans, make it a point to take a rest at The Clover Grill. You’ll feel right at home.
Abe Villarreal writes about life and culture in southern New Mexico. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.