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The Roxy Owner on the Diner's Infamous Late-Night Shift

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Image of the Roxy staff courtesy Suzanne Hale (pictured, center)

Earlier this week, Suzanne Hale the owner of iconic downtown institution The Roxy, agreed to dish on what 24 hours is like at the open-all-day diner. The first installment covered the gentler hours of the early morning, here, Hale picks up at 5p.m. — with the entrance of a beloved longtime Roxy regular — and chronicles a Tuesday-night graveyard shift full of bachelorettes, bar-hoppers, and the occasional rude customer. The recurring theme: the Roxy's diver clientele. "You can look down the counter and see a gutter punk sitting next to a cougar sitting next to a drag queen sitting next to a hipster sitting next to a suit and tie whose cologne screams 'I was too optimistic at the strip club,'" Hale says.

5p.m.: Our favorite regular, Reginald, comes in for dinner. He rarely speaks, and seems to wear the same thing every day.He looks like he doesn't have two nickels to rub together, but we have never judged him. For 18 years solid, he has come in twice a day. He likes the pork chop breakfast so much that we named it after him on the menu. The servers love him dearly and often we can serve him what he wants without him having to speak a word. He is mysterious to us, but seems to be able to order whatever he wants, and always leaves a tip. When the holidays roll around, he is one of the few people outside of staff and vendors who receive a gift from me.

7p.m.: People are starting to head for the bars, and business picks up. The professional alcoholics are smart enough to eat before drinking. The mood is changing from day mode to night mode. Almost. We have a few family types dining alongside the night people, so it's hard to tell sometimes.

9p.m.: Getting a little busier, and the cavalry arrives to back up the swing shift: a busser, and on weekends, a second server, a second cook, and a host. More counting of banks, and arranging of money, even a nice break to go downstairs and relax with a chili cheeseburger and watch part of a movie in the break area.

11p.m.: Graveyard shift has officially started. It's busy, but we try to get everyone a lunch break before the bars close. When the bars are busy, we are busy. Hellabusy.

Midnight: The first rush of people who want to eat before catching the last bus home...

1a.m.: The concerts and bachelorette parties are letting out and they head in to grab some food. We are getting busier, full house, and yet it is still the calm before the storm.

2a.m.: The bars are closing. Everyone comes in at once. Mayhem. The staff is a well-oiled machine. We're ready. Time to turn 'em and burn 'em. Suddenly there is a waiting list for seating. Quickly it becomes 20 parties deep. This is the hour which is most likely to provide a drunken spectacle from some amateur. The patrons consider it entertainment. This is a people watchers' wet dream. This is the Roxy, and we don't mind if you're sloppy, as long as you remember your manners. For those who fail to do so, it's always a shock when they find out that they can't treat the staff like crap and get away unspanked... We are so busy at night we can't afford to displace a good customer for a problem.

One time, some drunk girl was being unreasonably impatient about waiting her turn for a table. She went too far, and I took her off the list. She flipped out and cried discrimination. She wasn't an identifiable minority of any kind, and I felt her tactic was an affront to those who suffer genuine discrimination every day. So I told her that disco skanks were not a protected class, and she had to leave. The dining room and waiting area erupted in thunderous applause. Admittedly, it was a rude thing to say, but as a lifelong server I've worked in places where you were required to take any crap the customer gave, and I swore if I ever had my own place that would not be the policy. We work pretty damned hard to give good service and good food, but if you've had a bad day, we are not here for you to take it out on. While most people are delightful to wait on, if someone comes in with a chip on their shoulder, we use our power to control the mood with a little humor. If someone asks for an effing cup of coffee, I inform them that "effing" coffee costs extra. Or if they are talking down to me, I ask them if we used to be married. Once you've coaxed a chuckle out of them, the whole tone can change. Even if you show up in a bad mood, we prefer that you leave happy.

At this point we are working our well-practiced juggling act to get everyone seated, order taken, served, happy, and the table turned for the next in line. Pre-bussing is a must. When everything goes smoothly, a customer can get up to pay, and the staff has the table cleaned off, with a new set of customers seated before the departing guests have even gotten their change.

3a.m.: It's a full-on zoo now, and 90 percent of the room is likely schnockered. It's a good thing that they are here, because they shouldn't be driving. Going out to breakfast after a night of debauchery is an excellent hangover helper. ... The selection is diverse. You can look down the counter and see a gutter punk sitting next to a cougar sitting next to a drag queen sitting next to a hipster sitting next to a suit and tie whose cologne screams "I was too optimistic at the strip club." The servers are pirouetting through the pheromones with five plates on one arm, multi-tasking like pros. The bussers and the back of the house are crucial links in this ballet. This is our expertise.

4a.m.: Now the after-hours crowd starts coming in. They haven't been drinking for a while, but they are still fairly loopy. This is also about the time the bartenders and other bar workers start coming in to unwind. We recognize most of them, and you can always tell by the fact that they are walking completely upright and don't have their shirts on inside out. Bartenders and servers get the VIP treatment. We know their pain. They are kin. We hear the dish, and usually know exactly who they are talking about. They are given carte blanche, but as professionals, they rarely ask. Our servers love them most of all, and they are the best tippers.

5a.m.: The bar people are starting to drift out, but occasionally we stay full for another hour or so, depending on what's going on in the neighborhood. Sometimes you are just having a great night and you don't want it to end — so going out to eat gives you a chance to wind down, rehash the night, and maybe still get laid. Sometimes you are just waiting for the first bus to start running, and need a safe place to kill time.

6a.m.: The extra staff has finished up their side work and clocked out. A few early risers trickle in for their actual breakfast. It's always an interesting dynamic when day people and night people cross paths. You sense the confusion. It's like two parallel universes colliding. Each seems to be wondering which side of the Looking Glass they are on...

7a.m.: Oh god, I hope day shift is on time. I've had a crazy night and I'm ready to get out of here! My dogs are barking, I'm exhausted, and the sun is coming up. I'm desperate for the sweet ecstasy of slumber. It's sort of like in True Blood, going to ground. I just hope the goddam normal day people neighbors will be quiet enough so I can get some sleep today. Screw it, lets go down to the Commodore and get a cocktail or five...
· The Roxy [Official site]
· All Previous Roxy Coverage [Eater PDX]
· All Greasy Spoons Week Coverage [Eater PDX]

The Roxy

1121 SW Stark St., Portland, OR

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