The average night of a ‘U’ student follows a typical pattern: Pregame, party and then get hungry. As some people’s stomachs start growling, there is always that one person who yells, “Dudes! Let’s get some food!” This individual is now dubbed royally awesome, and his or her faithful lieges stumble behind to the nearest late-night establishment.
That’s when my night gets interesting.
I arrive at Brown Jug on South University Avenue on a Friday at 10:40 p.m. It’s not terribly crowded, but I know it will be in the later hours. I go to check out the pregame drinks and the meals that go with them. Most students are starting their nights with pizza, burgers or fries.
Cheers and whoops clamor as one member of a group to my right flips a quarter into a cup of beer. He drinks. They socialize with the waiters as they become increasingly drunk, then finally order some Brown Jug grub.
I spoke to manager Joshua Sanchez about Brown Jug’s smaller but just as significant store, Backroom Pizza.
Backroom, located at 605 Church Street, is an Ann Arbor late-night staple. Sanchez explained that on a Friday night, it sells about 500 slices of pizza between 1:40 a.m. and 2:40 a.m.
That hour is essential to the business. At this point, the crowd mainly consists of bar-dwellers who’ve had enough partying and are ready to sober up with some delicious carbohydrates. And the location couldn’t be better.
“It’s serendipitous,” Sanchez said. “We’ve benefited greatly from being between three of the most popular bars. I think (Backroom) is one of the three places people think of when they say, ‘Oh I’m drunk, I wanna eat.’ ”
Because the bars are so close to Backroom, the eating establishment witnesses some rowdier times. Sanchez said customers cut the line often, step on people’s feet and get in the way of others. But the bouncers brought over from the Brown Jug keep everyone in check and make sure that everyone gets their rightful portions of pizza — pepperoni is the most popular.
There is also the issue of overpayment and underpayment — students who are under the influence may not be aware of the money they are taking out of their wallets and pay less or more than the necessary amount for food. At Backroom, students who throw cash at the pizza-makers may not be aware that they’ve only given a dollar instead of the $1.25 that a slice now costs. Sanchez explained the heightened security helps prevent this from happening at Backroom, but at Brown Jug, waiters typically ask for a credit card when parties order so they don’t just drink and dash.
“People are bummed out about (the price hike), it’s so easy to pay with a dollar,” Sanchez said. “As a customer, that would put me out a little bit.”
But a dollar and a quarter for a slice at 3:00 a.m. is still cheaper than other campus pizza places.
Sanchez told me if I wanted to get the true Backroom experience, I should head back at 1:30 a.m. With that in mind, and with pre-gamers starting to clear out, it’s my turn to leave, too.
At about 12:30 a.m., I check out the goings on just up the block at Panchero’s Mexican Grill. I’m not sure if it’s the Mexican atmosphere, but there are a lot of people in cowboy gear.
Panch is a sight to see. At 1:00 you can hear the unanimous “Let’s go to Panch!” yells across campus. Toward the late-night establishment, those leaders start walking.
I’m sitting at a table by the door to see who will come in. A few girls walk in — their eyes glazed over with hunger — along with the guys who know the quickest way to win a drunk girl’s heart is buying her a chicken burrito. People are sitting in booths, hunched over their burritos as if someone were to come snatch them away. It isn’t the rowdy crowd I intended to see, but it’s entertaining nonetheless.
I sit down with one of the cooks, Fredo Cortez, to hear what typically occurs on a Friday night.
“It’s hard sometimes because people come drunk and try to speak Spanish, but most of the time they’re not right,” Cortez said.
He said that Panchero’s makes about $9,000 a night, mostly from burrito sales from 1:00 to 2:00 a.m., with another burst of sales at 2:30 a.m.
“This season, football season, people drink at the games and so we have the lines out the door on Friday and Saturdays,” Cortez said.
Though I missed it, Cortez said the post-bar crowd that often visits Panchero’s is a little crazier than the one at Backroom. He said people dance on the tables and even get in fights. That’s when the employees have to step in and break them up.
“We have to make the food and also watch the crowd,” Cortez said.
There are no table dance-offs or brawls, so I check my watch — it reads 1:45 a.m. Time to head back to Backroom for the crowd.
The stacks of ready-to-cook pizza I saw the workers preparing earlier that night are being devoured.
The line wraps around the building. People are throwing their plates like Frisbees, a slice falls on the floor and girls with no shoes on walk up and down the sidewalk. As amusing as all of this is, it’s 2:15 a.m. and I’m exhausted. I leave.
By day, a restaurant’s focus is the quality of the food. But when the sun goes down, it transforms into something more, with employees simultaneously breaking up fights and flipping pizzas at the speed of light. Though getting the food out is important, crowd control is equally imperative. These tough, multitalented purveyors of late-night food must keep that in mind while watching over a restaurant in the early morning hours.
And though I leave to go to sleep and ponder these thoughts, the night has barely begun for these hungry, late-night partygoers.