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Duke after midnight: Cafe Edens

At 11:55 p.m. on a Wednesday night, Café Edens—the West Campus mainstay formerly known as Pitchfork Provisions—smells like tater tots, bacon and hot wing sauce. 

A 24-hour eatery that begins serving breakfast at 11 p.m. and has an entire section of the menu dedicated to “grub,” Café Edens is a favorite late-night option for many students. Its location also proves convenient for residents of Few, Keohane and Edens Quadrangles who want a study break or a snack to keep them going. 

When I first arrive, the eatery is the most deserted it will be for the rest of the night, so I grab a booth with a good vantage point. Throughout the night, the types of students in Café Edens vary. Initially, I blend in with my glasses and Duke hoodie among students grabbing to-go items before heading back to study. Others hang out with a group of friends in the restaurant as night-time procrastination. 

“Pitchforks is where you come when you’re hungry and don’t want to study,” sophomore Larissa Cox said. 

By 12:30 a.m., the restaurant becomes more crowded, and there are more people wearing Hawaiian shirts and leis than I normally see on a Wednesday night. 

“Well, we’re drunk right now,” a boy in a blue Hawaiian shirt blurted out almost immediately after I approach him and his friend. They’ve just come from a mixer to grab some food. 

Paulette, the night manager of Café Edens, said that the most popular item once the clock hits 11 p.m. is eggs. Other favorites include tater tots and grilled cheese, which can be spiced up with various add-ons such as bacon, avocado and apples. 

“The grilled cheese with ham is bae above all else,” a student recommended to his friend. 

Of course, the Haystack—a plate of fries smothered in cheese, gravy and jalapenos—is a common choice among students visiting Pitchforks late at night. I also spied a pair of girls with Caesar salads and a side of tots to share. 

At around 1:30 a.m., business spikes again with a different type of customers—the start of the post-Wednesday Night Shooters crowd—marked by the unmistakable smell of beer and sweat.

After ordering, a boy in a fraternity t-shirt drop his glass beer bottle, shattering it on the floor. He quickly flees the scene to wash his hands in the bathroom while the girl with him starts picking up the glass shards, before a worker can mop up the mess. 

Another girl loudly smacks one of the lamps above a booth with a fork, temporarily silencing the restaurant. “It’s a cultural call,” her friend announces. “Respect my culture.”

I now feel more out of place typing on my laptop among the girls in crop tops or loose dresses and the boys in button downs and khakis taking Snapchats and laughing. 

Interestingly enough, though, there's still variety in Café Edens—Batman pajama pants and slippers mingle among skinny jeans and wedges. A boy with headphones finishes his chemistry homework as guys in a nearby booth drunkenly discuss Texas high school football. 

Tonight was a pretty typical night, workers said, adding that Friday and Saturday nights are even busier with crazier student antics. 

“It’s college, I assume students are under stress and need a release,” Paulette said. “Just don’t disrupt the place.”

Students have fallen asleep in the booths and workers have been forced to wake them up. Drunken behavior is expected during a late night at Café Edens, Paulette notes, even on a quiet Monday night. 

“We try to be as patient as we can and smile and do our best,” she said. 

The night begins to wind down close to 3 a.m., though the restaurant is by no means empty.  As someone who is nearly always found asleep at this point on any given night, I decide to retreat to the comfort of my bed. 

Leaving my booth after three hours, I realize that I’ve enjoyed observing both familiar and unfamiliar faces pass through. If there’s anything that can bring together a wide range of students on any given night, it’s Pitchforks.

This story belongs to a two-part look at Duke after midnight. Read the second part here.

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