Five Nights at Foco Late Night

Though Collis late night might be closed, its Foco iteration retains some old charms — like the mac and cheese bites.

by Meghan Powers | 2/24/21 2:05am

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Since the start of winter term, the Class of 1953 Commons has offered a late night meal service — typically a staple of Collis Cafe.

by Elizabeth Janowski / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Freshman year, I used to trek, maskless, from the Choates to Collis almost every night between 9 p.m. and 12 a.m. until I was on a first-name basis with the late night smoothie makers. I discovered that the cheddar and sour cream Ruffles were practically a panacea, curing everything from midterm blues to insomnia. On “on” nights, Collis was the unofficial destination for end-of-night reconnaissance (“Where did you end up?” “Is that glitter?”) before Dartmouth’s loudest tucked themselves in with mac and cheese bites — the only thing God and Satan have ever agreed upon.

Like everyone who goes to bed later than a septuagenarian, I was sad to see Collis late night go. From study abroad programs to Paddock and Kresge libraries, it feels like pieces of Dartmouth are slipping away. If I can’t go to Collis at the witching hour and get more mozzarella sticks than I requested, then what’s it all for? To this age-old question, the administration has an answer: Foco late night. 

Foco is not the most enticing location on campus at the best of times, and any Dartmouth student with Zoom fatigue and about a thousand pending Canvas assignments can tell you that Monday night between 9 p.m. and 12 a.m. is not the best of times. Nevertheless, I dragged myself to Foco late night to see what it was all about.

The first thing I notice on Monday — my first time venturing to late night this term — is that there’s no one at the front scanning cards. I get there around 11 p.m., and the place feels sort of abandoned until I get to where the vegan and vegetarian station normally is and round the corner, where seltzers, sodas and kombucha sit on ice. The line moves quickly. Tongs grasp at mac and cheese bites, and seafood scampi (the nightly special) sits to the side. I feel like I’m ordering chicken fingers in the apocalypse — like I have to get them to provide for my family as they hide in some nearby fallout shelter. The staff is friendly and clearly familiar with the Collis late night rule of portions: When you think you’ve hit “enough,” add some more. That first night, I grab my chicken and go, discovering a fancy elderflower sparkling water on my way out.

“I feel like I’m ordering chicken fingers in the apocalypse.”

Tuesday, I drag a friend along. “This had better be the best late night article in the world,” she says, almost tripping on black ice, “since I nearly died for it.” This only enhances my apocalyptic associations with late night. When we get inside, the Mardi Gras streamers still hang from dinner. They look out of place in the empty entryway. In the dining area, my friend and I stick around to catch selections from the “Fifty Shades Darker” soundtrack and Taylor Swift’s “cardigan.” I have it on my friend’s authority that the mac and cheese bites are as good as ever. There are maybe 20 people scattered throughout the room, and the lights are off. Some people are wearing headphones; others are swirling mozzarella sticks through marinara amid heated debate. It’s not Collis late night, but there is a college-ness about whispering conspiratorially across a table in a darkened room when you should be sleeping or doing work. 

On Wednesday, I’m feeling unmotivated about the slog through the snow from McLaughlin, but I get myself to Foco around 11:45 p.m. It’s the most I’ve ever had to motivate myself to go eat fried food, but I get to see the top halves of a few faces I haven’t seen in close to a year. I’ve noticed that the closer to midnight it gets, the longer the late night lines are, and they don’t look like they’ll let up before closing time. The Goo Goo Dolls dominate the soundtrack. I get chicken fingers again. I am a creature of habit, and childhood memories of Fuddruckers and a recently discovered lactose intolerance have made me a chicken tender loyalist. There are onion rings, two kinds of french fries, custom quesadillas, pizza, cookies, a sundae bar and a whole rack of chips, candy and cereal, but I choose to tuck six packets of ketchup in my pocket and cradle my chicken tenders.

“It’s not Collis late night, but there is a college-ness about whispering conspiratorially across a table in a darkened room when you should be sleeping or doing work. ”

Thursday, I successfully drag my roommate along on my quest. We both have tons of work to get back to, but we collapse in the high-backed dark side chairs long enough to complain about it. R&B drifts from the speakers, and I have been served a portion of waffle fries that could have saved Ireland in the 1840s. These orders have been running over the allotted late night meal swipe amount all week, but on Thursday I am grateful for late night. It’s an opportunity to rectify any miscalculations you might have made at dinner about how good the fish would be and a rare chance to sit across from a friend in a quiet, comfortable social space.

By Friday, I feel like a regular. It’s not the sort of night where I’d be tempted to go to late night if I weren’t motivated by my mission, but I like the snow and survived week seven, and no part of me is unhappy to be laughing in the Foco line just past 10 p.m. I don’t stay long. Foco late night, with its efficient lines and COVID-19 restrictions, isn’t the kind of intentional social space that Collis was, but it does have an impressive selection of comfort food. Not everything about Dartmouth has been so amenable to pandemic protocol, and late night is probably more of a cornerstone in the Dartmouth experience than we give it credit for. It’s nice to have this.

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