When all the watering holes shut down, D.C. can feel like it needs life support, a place to house the hordes of hungry children-of-the-night searching for something to eat. The Coupe, Columbia Heights’ bar/diner/coffee lounge, is one such sleepless stead. I staked it out on a recent Saturday night/Sunday morning to find out what goes down during the last half of the graveyard shift.
A bartender shakes a Bombay Sapphire martini at the bar, where 15 or so patrons are posted. In the lounge, tech types plug away at their keyboards, sipping single-origin slow-drip from mugs on vintage sofas.
Bargoers funnel into the restaurant. A man wearing a purple crushed velvet top hat and cape enters.
Two grown men play patty cake at the oblong bar. One possesses far more hand-eye coordination than the other. The hostess, who might as well be wearing pajamas, practically glides as she shows people to the few empty tables remaining, occasionally snapping her fingers to the dancehall music playing. She might be sleepwalking.
Twenty and thirtysomethings—many in heels and sport coats—now pack The Coupe in search of greasy food. Pancakes and square-shaped hash browns stream out of the kitchen, doors slamming behind them. The patrons at The Coupe are still well-behaved.
The rush drops off from its crescendo. No new customers enter. A few servers take a seat for a moment’s rest, eyes half-open, heads in hands, elbows resting on the stone bar top. A woman wearing a plastic tiara that reads “Birthday Girl” sings along to a K-Ci & Jo Jo song, using a bottle of Cholula Hot Sauce as her microphone, to a now-mostly deserted bar.
The Coupe is now two-thirds empty. A few stragglers embark on a roundtable discussion of the skill set of Alicia Keys.
Employees high-five one another as the graveyard shift draws to a close. Morning at The Coupe is about to begin.
Graphics by Carey Jordan