Mission: Get Drunk, Try Up Late

Does a breakfast sandwich taste better drunk in the wee hours? We investigate

Apr 5, 2023 at 6:15 am
click to enlarge Nathan Wright leans out of a pickup window holding a bag of food.
Braden McMakin
Chef-owner Nathan Wright opened Up Late earlier this year.

An hour after midnight on a recent Saturday, my options were limited.

By this hour, most restaurants had closed. The pandemic had narrowed down whatever late-night offerings existed before COVID-19 times. And this being St. Louis — not exactly a city known for wild nightlife even before that — my best option for a late-night meal to cap off drunken debauchery tends to be the closest fast-food chain. Or a packet of ramen at home.

But tonight, I was on a mission. A new fast-casual restaurant had opened mere hours before within a few miles of where I was hanging out in the Grove, and I was going to put it to the test.

Up Late (1904 South Vandeventer Avenue), described as a "late-night spot" by owner Nathan Wright, seeks to fill a void for St. Louis diners. The city holds few places where you can find food in the early morning hours (at least that's according to my numerous, desperate Google searches throughout the years). Wright, who is also Strange Donuts' front-of-house manager, hoped to meet that need by opening after-hours at the company's location near Tower Grove Park, World's Fair Donuts.

Though Up Late does not advertise itself as such, the joint is clearly for drunk people. Its hours are exclusively late — it opens at 8 p.m. and closes at 4 a.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Its short menu offers only four options: a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich; a sausage, egg and cheese sandwich; a carne asada taco; and donuts, a choice of gooey-butter cake, glazed or chocolate cake with chocolate icing. Drink options include bottled water, chocolate and 2 percent milk, a $2 cup of coffee and a canned 4 Hands Brewing Co. beer (simply named "Beer") for $5.

In summation, it's a drunkard's dream menu. Up Late's tagline is even "Whatever happens, we're here for you."

click to enlarge Breakfast Sandwich
Braden McMakin
Up Late's breakfast sandwiches are, frankly, quite tasty.

Which brings me back to my mission — to get drunk off my ass and test whether Up Late was truly a savior for toasted St. Louisans.

By the time 1 a.m. rolled around, and Saturday became Sunday, I was ready to slam down some food. It'd been six hours since my last bite (a caesar salad at the Golden Hoosier), and I was blotto, despite imbibing only a depressingly small number of drinks. (As a small person with an embarrassingly low alcohol tolerance, this alt-weekly writer won't disclose the actual number, for fear of shame.) It was enough to make me belt out and tear up to ABBA's "Chiquitita" in the car. Let's leave it at that.

A couple of pals joined me on my quest. Upon arrival at Up Late, we joined a crowd of patrons milling about the unassuming parking lot next to World's Fair Donuts. Had it not been for Strange Donuts co-owner Jason Bockman popping in and out of a sliding window cut into a back wall, bro-handshaking patrons like friends as he handed them bags of food, we would have had no idea we were in the right place.

We scanned a QR code taped onto the donut shop's back wall and ordered. Food arrived about 15 minutes later.

Dear reader, it hit the spot. The sandwich I ordered — fried egg, a sausage patty, American cheese and jelly crammed between two slices of toasted Companion sourdough bread — not only satisfied my hunger but scratched an itch in my brain. I hadn't felt satisfaction in this form since before the pandemic, when late-night options were more plentiful and the Courtesy Diner was still open off South Kingshighway.

One of my companions summed it up pretty succinctly: "This is what White Castle wishes it could be."

And that's just what St. Louis needed.

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