Late-Night Eats In Western Mass: Our Guide To Post-Midnight Grub

Whether you’re pulling an all-nighter cramming for a test, pub crawling with friends, working the graveyard shift, or just woke up in the middle of the night with the sudden urge for a slice of pizza, there are restaurants, diners, joints, and donut shops in the Pioneer Valley that will answer your call for nourishment beyond midnight.

And we don’t mean fast food drive-thru.

If you’re hungry after 1 a.m. the Valley has a handful of places each with a unique clientele, atmosphere, and grub (the standard term for all food served after midnight). Your options include: Antonio’s of Amherst (the prince of late-night dining, Antonio’s is known to serve pizza slices after the bars close until every single person, in the long line stretching out the door, is served); Insomnia Cookies, also of Amherst (if you live in their delivery area, they’ll bring you fresh-baked cookies to you at 3 a.m.); the Whately Diner (a popular truck stop off I-91 with classic American eats); Local in Northampton (burgers, fried pickles, oh-so-good Captn Crunch coated hotdogs, and more until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday); the Fifties Diner in Chicopee (hot food, a warm wait staff, but cold clientele); and Denny’s (you know the drill).

And while Donut Dip in West Springfield and East Longmeadow aren’t technically available late night, they open so early — 3 a.m. — it might as well be late night.

We scoped them out and put together this handy guide on where to eat when it’s late.

The Fifties Diner

363 Burnett Road, Chicopee

Open 24-hours; food is American diner fare, $1.99-$12.99; the atmosphere is very Hemingway.

The loud buzzing of stadium lights and the heavy exhale of 16-wheelers pulling into the gas station greet me as I make my way into the Fifties Diner on Burnett Road in Chicopee. It’s around 12:30 a.m. and it is raining. Inside the diner, which is connected to a convenience store, is a time warp: the floors are black and white checkered tiles and a large juke box playing Buddy Holly’s “Rollercoaster” anchors the room. On the lunch counter are several glass cake displays containing ooey-gooey chocolate cake and glistening donuts.

The place is clean and well-lit, reminding me of Ernest Hemingway’s story “A Clean Well-Lighted Place” (except without any cranky waiters serving brandy and talking about suicide). The point of that Hemingway short story, which took place in a late-night Spanish cafe, is that a clean, well-lighted place extends its dignity to the lonely nighthawks who need somewhere to be … and about losing sleep in a foolish attempt to cheat death.

On this Friday night, the Fifties Diner was just jam-packed with people, says Shellie, the waitress behind the counter where I sit, but now things are settling down. Two teen boys with thick-framed eyeglasses and backwards ball caps take a set of stools a little down the counter from me and play “Pong”-type games on their smartphones. Another two couples are sitting in booths and talking across the aisle, while a family sits on the other side of the restaurant and a couple of guys with thick beards and tattoos sit at a booth by the door. On many of the other tables are stacks of dishes Shellie, the lone waitress on tonight, has pre-stacked for pick up.

Shellie is a young woman with red curly hair pulled back into a ponytail, the requisite Fifties Diner pink button up shirt, and a rainbow beaded necklace. I quickly learn she is a master of passing on knowledge and telling full stories in two sentences or less during brief exchanges with customers.

“Chugging 32 ounces of iced coffee, no matter, no matter how tired you are, is never a good idea,” she says putting down a Dunkin Donuts cup and rushing over to two tables where the people are discussing where to buy the best mattresses in the area.

I ask Shellie about the “homemade” specials, but the diner is all out. Friday is fish n’ chips, Shellie says, and it’s very popular. “We always sell out,” she adds, noting, “I’ve worked here for a couple months and I haven’t broken anything yet.”

I order the Fifties Burger, just like the dudes with the beards, who proclaim it “damn good,” and the teens who grunt an affirmative without looking up from their phones when I ask them whether they liked their meals.

“It was a valiant effort, sirs,” Shellie says to the teens collecting their half-finished plates. She refers to all the customers with courtesy and/or cute titles. The men are sirs and gentlemen, and the women are ladies, sweeties, loves, and darlings.

When my burger comes, there’s only myself and the family still in the restaurant. The burger is around $6 and it’s served juicy on a buttered bun with scorching, crispy onion rings; that is to say, “damn good.”

Outside of Shellie’s warmth, I feel isolated in the diner, like the cake under glass on the counter. I’m here, but I can only connect with the waitress.

— Kristin Palpini

The Whately Diner

372 State Road (Routes 5 and 10), Whately — exit 24 off I-91

Open 24 hours; Diner food; $5-$10; Atmosphere: truckers and nostalgia

A car with Delaware plates is just pulling out as I roll up to the Whately Diner at 3:15 a.m. Inside a man is finishing up his pancakes and coffee and John, who doesn’t give his last name, (“nobody knows my last name,” he says) hands him his bill. John has been working the night shift at the Whately Diner for 26 years.

Has it changed much in that time, I ask.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” he says.

A neon-ringed clock tells the time, but it’s easy to forget what year it is looking at mini juke boxes at the tables or the unchanged diner staples — round stools, the pie shelf, napkin caddies — that surround the lunch counter. As the world carries on elsewhere, the Whately Diner’s ageless late nights keep on keeping on. The menu is full of options, with Blue Plate Specials and an Omelet of the Month. I order two eggs, over hard, and corned beef hash. To my surprise, John brings out homemade hash rather than canned, and it’s good.

It’s not surprising to me that eerie shows like the Twilight Zone or Twin Peaks make use of diners. There is something both comforting and unsettling about being in one. The Whately Diner has its own oddities: the coin-operated showers in the bathroom, for instance.

But The Whately, with the ever-present neon “D-I-N-E-R” on the roof, has been a Franklin County fixture for decades, the only 24-hour diner for miles (and located off of easy-to-remember Exit 24 on 91). I’ve been going for years after contra dances where people dance to midnight in Greenfield or returning to the area from road trips after everything else has closed. Sometimes it’s hopping, and the wait is long for that post midnight breakfast, and sometimes, like this most recent visit, the place is almost empty. I’ve noticed that the late night crowd is often more talkative than you’d think, and I have a pleasant conversation with the man who just finished his pancakes before he heads off into the night leaving me alone except for John behind the counter.

John has seen the ownership has changed hands a couple of times, and has learned to expect the unexpected. “It’s quiet now, but a bus could pull up any minute,” he says. This is the place to go for classic diner food — eggs, shakes, burgers, you know the drill — at 3 in the morning.

— Dave Eisenstadter

Local

16 Main Street, Northampton

11:30 a.m. to 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday; burgers, fries, and shakes, $2.29-$10.99; the atmosphere is bustling and inviting.  

It’s a little after midnight and my wife, Anna, and I pull into the parking lot of the Easthampton Diner. The lot is half full and I’m hopeful for some tasty breakfast. But opening my car door, a waitress smoking a cigarette dashes our dreams of ordering half a melon with cottage cheese.

The kitchen closes at midnight and they aren’t taking orders. I give her a dumbfounded expression, looking at a group of people enjoying their late-night meals in joyful camaraderie. Before I can say a word she tells me the groups have come from a nearby concert and normally the diner would be closed by now. She suggests we try our luck hunting for late-night eats in Chicopee, but we have a closer plan.

When we arrive at Local on Main Street in Northampton, the place is bustling. Checking out the large chalk board menu above the cashier, I feel uneasy thinking about ordering a Cap’n’ Crunch Hot Dog — a hot dog coated in crushed cereal, then deep-fried, and topped with buffalo sauce and bleu cheese. (Editor’s Note: Do not fear the Cap’n’ Crunch dog — it’s delicious, like a sweet n’ spicy corndog.) Anna wants a boozy milkshake, but they don’t sell them after midnight. I decide on an all-beef frank and we share a gravy train of poutine that I’m renaming: “The Endless Pit of Non-Despair.”

At 12:47 a.m. Princess Bride-inspired monikers are more amusing than they seem. Realizing my golden opportunity, I pile the french fries doused in rich, smoky gravy and globs of cheese curds on top of the dog and relish this new menu hack. Was it some kind of Frankenstein’s monster that defies conventional wisdom and borders on abomination? Oh yeah! It’s a little after 1 a.m. when we leave Local and there is a line nearly stretching out the door. We’re content and ready to dream of more adventures in the Endless Pit of Non-Despair.

— Chris Goudreau

Donut Dip

1305 Riverdale Street, West Springfield

3 a.m. – 11:30 p.m., homestyle donuts and pastries; $1.35-$12.49; Atmosphere: 1950s coffee shop. 

Pink neon lights read, “Donut Dip” against the dark morning sky as I roll up to the front entrance of the 1950’s donut shop in West Springfield at 6:30 a.m. Walking through the doors is like a timewarp. Those nostalgia inducing coffee shops that you see in old movies and Quentin Tarantino flicks still exist, and one of them can be found right off the West Springfield exit for Interstate 91 — even if you get there at 3 a.m.

My senses of taste, smell, and sight are overwhelmed. Donut Dip makes every donut fresh and on-site. Do I get the blueberry cake donut, a Boston Creme, or stick to the powdered jelly classic?

There’s only a couple people at the shop when I walk in – what looks to be like a grandmother taking her grandaughter for a sweet breakfast treat and a man probably in his 70s ordering a cup of coffee. It feels like walking into a Norman Rockwell painting with all the warm nostalgic feelings to boot. I order half a dozen donuts, the Boston Creme is extra (about $1.70 compared to $1.35), but definitely worth the cost for this scrumptious chocolate and custard union. After ordering, I ask about interviewing the manager and meet Katie Shields, who seems surprised at first that a reporter wants to interview her this early in the morning.

People come at all hours to buy donuts, says Shields, manager and the fourth generation of her family to own the shop. And usually, they find someone there making donuts.

“One guy comes in around 9 the night before and works through the night,” she says. “We have other people come in at midnight, 2 a.m. — we’re here already.

“We open at 3 because we’re off the highway and we have people traveling,” she says, noting the Donut Dip sign is visible from the highway.

The day ends at Donut Dip at 11:30 p.m. and the shop re-opens at 3 a.m., much the same as when it opened 60 years ago in 1957, she says

Her late great-grandfather, Charles, started the business with his son, her grandfather, Richard. Her father Paul also followed in his father’s footsteps and continued the family tradition.

“We do everything the way that we did when we opened,” she says. “We use quality ingredients. We do everything by hand. We don’t take any shortcuts.”

With half a dozen donuts secured in a paper box, I make way back to the highway homeward, with the smell of baked sugar wafting through my car.

— Chris Goudreau

Denny’s

2173 Northampton St. (Route 5), Holyoke

Open 24 hours; food is American diner fare, $5-$15; the atmosphere is friendly.

It’s pouring on Friday as I pull up to the Denny’s on Route 5 in Holyoke and, through the rain, I can see the four people in the car next to me smoking a joint before making a dash through the quickly-filling puddles to the restaurant.

It’s 2:30 a.m. and I’m exhausted, but also hungry and looking forward to catching all that sweet Denny’s weirdness that I remember from when I used to go out to eat late-night after a night of partying. As I walk through the door and see the perpetually broken claw game and smell the soggy carpet, I’m transported back to my high school and college years.

I take a seat at the counter and listen to the cacophony of conversations taking place at tables throughout the restaurant. There’s loud laughter and in the corner booth some women in club clothes toss french fries at each other.

The staff behind the counter joke about something that happened earlier in the night. It looks like there are around 10 waitpersons on staff tonight. A stool down from me is a man with white hair and glasses wearing a “Life Is Good” T-shirt beside a plate of half-eaten chicken wings and a pile of wadded up napkins. I order some wings as well and survey the dining room. It’s hard to tell if it’s still raining because of all the signs on the windows hawking meal-deals and a sentient parachuting pancake that appears to be the place’s mascot.

When the man’s dinner partner comes back, she’s all smiles wearing a pair of blue nylon shorts and a T-shirt and carrying an overstuffed tiny studded, black leather purse.

“Where were you?” he asks.

“In the bathroom,” she says a bit annoyed.

“You were gone a really long time.”

“Oh,” she says before directing her conversation to the waitstaff behind the counter: “That’s new,” she says pointing to the hot plate on which a waiter lays a fresh-from-the-kitchen fajita skillet.

“It’s to give it extra sizzle,” he says.

The woman, it turns out, used to work at the Holyoke Denny’s, but transferred to the one in Chicopee.

“Oh, you haven’t gotten the new bags yet,” she says. “We got them already. You’ll get them, too.”

As I pay my bill and get up to leave, the woman yells for me. “Honey, honey!” she says and I turn, “Don’t forget your pen cap.” She holds up the cap, which I would have been happy to leave behind — I hate pen caps — take it and thank her for her help.

“Don’t worry, sweetie,” she says, “I got you.”

— Kristin Palpini

Author: Advocate Staff

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