Forget BK – there’s no place like Perkins

Ryan Wenzel

There isn’t much to miss about Green Bay, Wis., but I’m inclined to return to my hometown from time to time. Sure, it’s nice to sleep in my old bedroom, have my laundry done and eat homecooked meals. And I love seeing my family, my overweight dog and my high school friends. But what I miss most about life in Green Bay is the Perkins restaurant on Military Avenue.

More than 50 percent of Perkins restaurants are in five states – Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida – and most of my Northwestern friends haven’t heard of them. Allow me to elaborate. After a late movie or a night out, groups of teenagers and 20-somethings flock to Perkins to smoke, devour plates of pancakes and chat, sometimes for hours. But there’s nothing particularly great about the place. The tables are often dirty, the waitstaff can be rude and the food is bland. Why do we dine there? Because it’s the only Green Bay restaurant open 24 hours.

Relatively few NU students have been to a Perkins, but I’ve found that 24-hour dining is an almost universal obsession among our age group. I recently took a trip to northern New Jersey, an area very different from Green Bay socially, economically and culturally. The mall I visited had a Lacoste and a Louis Vuitton – a far cry from Wisconsin favorites Kohl’s and Dress Barn. But when the malls and movie theaters close, my friends from New Jersey flock to the diners that line the highway.

What we enjoy most about these less-than-savory establishments is the lack of expectation. You don’t have to look nice, you don’t have to order much and, most importantly, you don’t have to be sober. Without the ceremony and above-average food you normally expect of a dining experience, you can concentrate on conversation, loosen up and have a great time.

I hoped to find a 24-hour restaurant comparable to Perkins when I came to NU. As a student without a car, my only option has been Burger King, but the seating isn’t as comfortable, the lines can be long and I always feel like I should leave once I finish my chicken tenders. The hoards of drunken NU students from The Keg don’t help, either.

The lack of 24-hour dining options in Evanston troubles me, to the amusement of many of my friends. But what I’ve gathered from my experience and others’ is that some of our best memories come from these nighttime pilgrimages. Of the hundreds of stories I’ve mentally logged, at least half of them begin with “This one time, when I was at Perkins.” Sure, I’ll graduate from NU with countless tales of friends, fun and debauchery, but I still feel as though something’s missing. Like the lack of campus-accessible grocery stores, this is another example of Evanston’s businesses not taking full advantage of their market.

But there is one advantage: I’ll always have another reason to go home.

Medill junior Ryan Wenzel is the PLAY editor. He can be reached at [email protected]