clubs close, most people have had it with partying. They're pooped. Worn out. They need sustenance."
But for those who can rock until dawn, there's a bowling alley (Ventura Lanes) that combines bowling and big-screen MTV. And if the urge to shoot pool suddenly comes over you at 6 a.m., you can head to the Boulevard Social & Athletic Club in the Northeast.
Of course, this deliberately leaves out Atlantic City casinos (at this hour who needs more sensory overload?). And we're talking places with more character than the corner Wawa. So if you yearn for more than Pepperidge Farm and Lean Cuisine, you may want to try . . . .
1501 Snyder Ave., 467-6644
At 2 on a Saturday night (Sunday morning) the girls from St. Maria Goretti High School, looking fresh from their midnight naps, parade by the boys from Bishop Neumann under the merciless glare of the fluorescent lights at the Melrose Diner in South Philadelphia. Off-duty cabdrivers, police, firefighters and the staffs of half a dozen Chinatown restaurants, like Joe's Peking Duck House, also come to the Melrose.
The hallmark of this 52-year-old stainless-steel institution is consistency. All the food is homemade, every recipe has been written down, every cook follows every recipe to the letter. There is no room for improvising. The Kubach family has been running this tight ship for 52 years. Founder Richard Kubach Sr. is still active in the business, though his son, Richard Jr., runs the day-to-day operations.
Many Melrose patrons are steady neighborhood customers who have memorized the menu. They order by letter ("A" is a turkey club, "B" is hot corned beef). Some have eaten three square meals a day at the Melrose for 30 years, and some employees have worked there longer than that.
There is a lot of waving and booth-hopping on this rainy night; people know each other. They also know the waitresses - each neatly outfitted in black polyester pants and tops with white piping, knife-and-fork pins stuck in their lapels.
The Melrose seats 106, and the place is packed. Patrons talk about the rain. Someone lets his friends know he's arrived: "Yo, Dave." They order coffee. It's only 40 cents a cup, and it's delicious. Its taste, says general manager Paul Tierney, who has worked at the Melrose for 32 years, is as much a product of the water as it is of the beans: The water is filtered and taste- treated. So is the drinking water. "Philadelphia water is only used here to flush the toilets," says Tierney.
The Melrose is exceptionally clean. Gleaming tableware, spic-and-span floor. An elaborate venting system eliminates cooking smells. Even the garbage is refrigerated at the Melrose. At peak times, you have to wait for a booth, but never your check. Your waitress gives you the check when she brings your food.
Old-fashioned creamed chipped beef on toast, served with hash browns ($3.50), is a favorite, perhaps followed by a generous slice of apple pie ($1.10, or $1.60 topped with vanilla sauce). Made with golden delicious apples, the pie is pH tested to ensure proper balance. Nothing at the Melrose is left to chance.
DINER ON THE SQUARE
1839 Spruce St., 735-5787
Diner on the Square, formerly the Deluxe Diner, attracts an eclectic crowd - from overworked residents at Graduate Hospital to gay couples from Spruce Street. The late-night crowd on a recent Friday is mostly heterosexual couples under 25 wearing Guess jeans and Reeboks. One college-age woman is showing a guy her gold-and-silver Rolex watch. She went for the gold face. Does he think the white face would look better?
A group of women in their late 30s, the oldest folks there, are talking about efforts to quit smoking. One has gone to a hypnotist. "It worked for a week," says one, taking a slow drag from a True Blue.
The eight booths - padded cornflower blue - are roomy. Heinz ketchup bottles line up on the laminated Formica tables. A big bus-station clock is mounted on a baby-blue wall. A big sign for Mobil gas shines neon. In the
window, the diner's name is spelled out in Easter-basket colors of lavender, yellow and aqua neon.
The menu is nouveau diner - diner cooking without the grease and with some
updated items, like "Cindy's Salad" - lettuce, tomato, carrots, green pepper, grated cheddar cheese, sunflower seeds and alfalfa sprouts ($4.25). Black-and-white Potts ice-cream milkshakes ($2.50) are thick and good. Pepper and eggs come on a fresh Italian roll, with cole slaw and french fries ($3.50). The "square" in the name, by the way, is Rittenhouse Square, a block to the north.
17th and Chancellor Streets, 545-5508
After the Polo Bay club and Maxwell's (formerly the Brasserie) close at the Warwick, people cross the street to Little Pete's. It's a small, crowded, stick-to-the-ribs kind of place: People are serious about eating here. Swirly brown-and-white linoleum tiles are on one wall, skinny brickwork on another. An Atari machine and a machine loaded with bright stuffed animals, cigarette packs and decks of cards are near the entrance. Put a quarter in and you might win something. I didn't.
Desserts like carrot cake and chocolate walnut cake (both $1.50) go round in a glassed-in carousel. Country Time lemonade swirls in the Jet-Spray Cooler. Try one of the eight varieties of double-decker sandwiches. Milkshakes (made with Barricini ice cream) are thick. Rice pudding, topped with whipped cream from the can, is good, if a little thin. Bob Hirshorn, who drives a cab for Fabs Cab and is a Little Pete's regular, recommends the cheesesteak hoagie (with extra mayo and raw onions). Little Pete's, he says, is a favorite pit stop for cabdrivers, waiters and waitresses after work. ''I've seen people so tired or so blitzed," he says, "that they fall asleep in their bowl of spaghetti."
California Avenue and the Boardwalk,
Atlantic City, 609-345-2719
Duke Mack's hops all night long. This restaurant-nightclub has a DJ every night from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. He plays Top 40s and digs into Duke Mack's collection of 100 videos (Springsteen, Genesis and Prince are favorites) that you watch on an 8-foot screen or bop on the parquet dance floor that's surrounded by strobes and mirrors.
Starting Memorial Day and continuing until Labor Day, Duke Mack's holds weekly late-night contests, including the Hottest Tan Contest (for women) and the Best Buns (for men). Wrestling fans can watch Hulk Hogan or Andre the Giant on the MTV screen on Suds 'n' Slams night. One weekday night a week, there's a Chippendales-spinoff male revue and female revue. (Last year it was Wednesday; this year's weekday hasn't been set yet.) The hoots and whistles start at 2 a.m.
The late-night menu includes steamed clams ($2.75 a dozen), king crab ($5.95 a half-pound) and pizza (one size feeds all, $8.50). Beer is $1.50 a bottle and up.
COUNTRY CLUB RESTAURANT
1717 Cottman Ave., 722-0500
This 30-year-old restaurant has recently undergone a face lift. The four dining rooms (one is no-smoking) that seat 250 have been transformed from no- nonsense diner decor to upscale pastel paradise, with laminated pink Formica tables, pink walls, cushy green chairs and lavender and pale green carpets. Recessed lighting has replaced fluorescent tubes. The back dining room even has a skylight.
The menu still has the old staples, including delicious cheesecakes - chocolate chip, black forest, amaretto, pumpkin (in the fall), plain or plain topped with cherries, blueberries or strawberries. All for $1.75 a slice. (Country Club does its own baking, some at the restaurant, most in the warehouse bakery in Trevose.) The restaurant's bakery counter, with some 75 items from Italian rum cake to hamentaschen, is open 24 hours a day.
But the restaurant has recently introduced a hip late-night menu with '80s items like a vegetarian hoagie (steamed fresh vegetables on a hoagie roll) and Acapulco omelette (three fluffy eggs filled with tomato, onion, green pepper and avocado). Refurbishing the place and updating the menu has helped the Country Club's already brisk businesss, says manager Mike Klauder.
Most business is repeat. The late-night weekend crowd includes kids from Northeast High School and the after-the-Bustleton-Avenue-movie-theater crowd. Later, the folks from nearby Bennigan's Bar start coming in, and later still, the bartenders.
VILLAGE COURT DINER
140 South St., 627-5258
The Village Court Diner is the place to go after you've done South Street. On weekends after 2 a.m., patrons and employees from Flanigan's, Pizzeria Uno, LaCucina, Scruples and Who's on Third? fill the place. Punk rockers sit next to people from Downey's. "Everybody fits in," says owner Evans Evangelou, ''because this is a place to eat - not socialize."
In its last incarnation, Village Court Diner was called the Queen Village Diner, and regulars still call it that. The place was renovated last fall and, according to Evangelou, "it needed it. We had rented it out for a couple of years, and the people really let it go."
Evangelou, who runs the place with his father and brother, ripped out the old front and put on a new brick one, replaced the tables and chairs with saddle-color booths (the booths everybody wants are the big ones by the
windows facing South Street) and polyurethaned the oak floors. The Evangelous changed the name because they're building an outdoor dining court (with an enclosed cooking area and a 6-foot charcoal pit) that's scheduled to open next month.
Eggs are good here, particularly the omelettes and eggs benedict ($5.50). Home fries are available 24 hours a day. Moussaka ($5.95) comes with a small Greek salad; gyros, with homemade tzatziki sauce of cucumber and yogurt, comes in a pita ($4.50). The coffee is excellent.
Routes 70 and 73, Marlton Circle, Marlton,
Olga's big red rooftop signature beckons from a mile away. This 27-year-old Marlton mainstay does a terrific late-night business, capturing the after- movie and after-bar crowds. The Marlton 8 cinema is down the street, as is TGI Friday's. And in the summer, people traveling back and forth to the shore stop at Olga's for a quick bite.
The four-room restaurant (one is no-smoking) was refurbished this year in high-tech colors: The tables are gray Formica and the high-back chairs are black with mauve seats, though the decorator, says Olga's bookkeeper Mary Anne Rann, calls it "aubergine."
Olga's does its own baking (the next-door bakery is open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.) and makes old-fashioned desserts like tapioca pudding as well as newfangled ones like chocolate mousse pie.
There are more than 100 items to choose from on the menu, and creamed chipped beef with hash browns, toast and jelly ($4.95) is a favorite, as is hot Italian sausage and eggs ($4.75).
THE RITZ OF PHILADELPHIA
11650 Roosevelt Blvd., 676-1331
The former Heritage Diner, family-operated for more than 25 years, has been transformed from diner to deco. Lots of chrome, mirrors and track lighting. It seats 225 in three rooms (one no-smoking). The menu ranges from scrambled eggs and hash browns ($2.95) to sauteed veal ($10.95). Full-service bakery, with more than 50 desserts.
MARIOTT FAMILY RESTAURANT
4310 Roosevelt Blvd., 535-2334
The Mariott features "big breakfasts" like two eggs, two hotcakes, two sausage patties and two slices of bacon for $3.39, plus Howard Johnson's peppermint stick, Swiss chocolate almond and praline pecan crunch ice cream. Ninety-five cents gets you one large scoup.
BOB'S BIG BOY FAMILY RESTAURANT
7521 City Ave., 879-4038; Lancaster Ave. and
Kenilworth Rd., Villanova, 525-9336;
Church and Easton Rds., Glenside, 884-6541
Bob's is open all night Fridays and Saturdays (it closes at midnight other nights). The big Friday-Saturday attraction is the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet that's available at all hours and features 35 hot and cold items, including eggs, pancakes, sausage, bacon, fruit, Jell-O, yogurt, muffins. It's just $4.29.
PAT'S KING OF STEAKS GENO'S STEAKS
Ninth Street and Passyunk Avenue
What can be said about these two Philadelphia institutions and lifelong competitors that hasn't already been said? For less than five bucks at either, you get to sit at the picnic tables (red-formed plastic at Pat's, orange at Geno's) or stand under the yellow fluorescent lights that make you look as if you need a liver transplant, and enjoy a greasy but delicious cheesesteak with hot peppers and a Coke (at Pat's) or a Pepsi (at Geno's). Who can ask for anything more?
Black Horse Pike, West Atlantic City, N.J.
OK, so maybe food isn't enough to fill up the wee hours. Every night from 9:30 p.m. till dawn is Rock-and-Bowl night at Verona Lanes in West Atlantic City. They dim the lights, blast the music and and play MTV on the 10-foot screen between lanes 12 and 13 of this 24-lane bowling alley. Six 19-inch color TVs in the scoring area are also tuned to MTV.
Rock-and-Bowl attracts mostly singles between 17 and 35. It's a cheap date: A set will cost you $1.90. Casino employees coming off shifts and kids from Atlantic City High School come here to bowl with Bruce Springsteen and the Beastie Boys on the big screen. The place is packed on the weekends. While you're waiting - expect up to a 30-minute wait on Fridays and Saturdays - try one of the 25 video machines, including Atari Warrior and Legend of Kage or the Devil Rider pinball machine.
100 Woodcrest Shopping Center,
Cherry Hill, 609-428-1311
On Saturday night at 9:30 at Crest Lanes, the lights go down and a DJ starts playing oldies from the '50s, '60s and '70s. "It brings out older people in their 30s and 40s," says 24-year-old Tom Mitchell, who works at the 32-lane bowling alley.
At midnight, the crowd gets younger as students from Camden Catholic and Cherry Hill East High Schools, Camden County Community College and Rutgers in Camden get bowled over for $1.95 a set. The DJ puts away the Buckinghams and puts on Peter Gabriel. He'll play Top 40 until 5 or 6 a.m., depending on how busy the place is. Another crowd comes in about 3 a.m., when bars like the nearby Galaxy close.
Crest Lanes got its liquor license last summer, and the bar is nearly complete. Right now, a makeshift bar serves bottled beer ($1.50 to $2). Sandwiches and burgers, in the $4 to $5 range, will also be served once the bar is finished. Crest is open till 5 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays (6 a.m. if especially busy), till 4 a.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays and till 2 a.m. Sundays- Tuesdays.
BOULEVARD SOCIAL & ATHLETIC CLUB
6351 Roosevelt Blvd., 743-9564
You have to be a member to shoot pool at the Boulevard, but the criteria aren't exactly tough to meet: You can't have a record, as in police record. And it will cost you $1 to join, and another $1 for annual dues. The club has 10,000 members.
Pool master Mike Fusco (he's won the Pennsylvania State Pool Championship six times and the U.S. Open and the New Jersey championship once each) has been running the Boulevard for 30 years. He says he still feels a charge every day when he walks up the flight of stairs to his 4,000-square-foot club (the first floor is a dry cleaner) with its 18 Gold Crown Brunswick pool tables.
He's good friends with pool champ Willie Mosconi. "I got hooked up with him 24 years ago," Fusco says. Mosconi plays at the Boulevard, as does Minnesota Fats. But most of the people there aren't famous. "They're regular," says Fusco. "Doctors, lawyers, retired people, football players, baseball players - most are married men. We get a lot of waitresses."
An hour of pool time costs $2.50, and you can play chess for free. There are soda and snack machines.
Fusco, who teaches pool at the Philadelphia Club ("Make sure you put that in there") will give you pool tips for free at the Boulevard - if he's there. ''I never tell people when I'm going to be there," he says. "I don't want to be tied down."