Louis’ Lunch. You’ve all heard the stories. The birthplace of the hamburger. No ketchup allowed. A late night eatery? Maybe not. More undergraduates than one would think have never been to Louis’ — perhaps the small brick building’s Crown Street location is just outside of an average Yalie’s campus bubble. The fabled restaurant remains part of Yale tour guide lore, along with Sally’s and Pepe’s and that one athletic facility in Siberia that’s bigger than Payne Whitney Gymnasium.
An even smaller percentage of students know that Louis’ Lunch, despite the deceptively specific title, is open until 2 a.m. on weekends. And on this Halloween, thanks to daylight savings time and a nearby off-campus party (I know, I’m like, so cool) I didn’t wind up at G-Heav or Yorkside. Instead, I found myself within the hallowed and cramped confines of Louis’ for my late night fix.
The place was packed. My date and I, Veruca Salt and a lumberjack who looked suspiciously like just another Williamsburg hipster, squeezed our way to the front counter to place our order: A side of potato salad, two rare burgers with the works (cheese, tomato and onion) and a slice of blueberry pie with whipped cream. The order, which included a bottle of Fiji water (Fiji, really?), came to a total of 24 dollars. Pretty reasonable for two people, especially considering that a Wenzel from Alpha Delta will set you back almost eight. And anyway, in my late night “state of mind,” it felt like the deal of the century.
Then it was time for the wait. With at least ten hungry customers before us, a vampire or two, one sexy policewoman who should have retired the mini skirt a long time ago and a very sad ladybug with her heels in hand, it would be a few minutes. Veruca and I slumped down onto the end of a recently vacated bench. JFK and Jackie O. sat across from us, already chomping into their burgers in a most undiplomatic fashion.
We dug into our potato salad, served in a Styrofoam cup with a garnish of two plastic forks stuck unceremoniously in the center. The pepper was intense, maybe too much for normal hours. But in that “state of mind” I mentioned above, it was just enough to wake up my taste buds. The elderly proprietor shouted names from behind the counter, but not ours yet. He was dressed as he is always, in a baggy tee shirt and blue jeans, but he did have a few streaks of colored paint on his cheeks. This was a festive detail I hardly noticed at the time and did not fully appreciate his effort until the next morning.
When Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy were wiping their mouths and the woebegone ladybug had finally found a seat, Veruca’s name was called. Our salad was long gone. She handed me my sandwich and I immediately, as they say, bent to my task. Now, I’ve had Louis’ Lunch before and have had to wait longer than I did that night. But never had the burger seemed so rich in flavor, so overwhelmingly satisfying. All sounds were gone, the chaotic scene around me melted away, and I was lost in the meal.
This wasn’t just another greasy grinder with some combination of chicken and mayonnaise. This was a meal, and a good one. The pie rounded it out, and JFK and Jackie O. watched as Veruca and the hipster/logger jostled plastic forks for the last bite. We walked home from Louis’ not stuffed or queasy, but satisfied. And happy.