Neon signs glow in the windows, casting a soft light over patrons wedged into booths, their computers, notebooks and phones splayed out on the table in front of them. The smell of onion rings rises from the boiler tucked into the back. At another table, a group of two couples exchange banter as they play cards. From somewhere in the kitchen in the back, Queen tinnily rings out of a radio.
This is what Hi-Way Diner in Lincoln looks like on a normal weeknight. On Tuesday, Dec. 3, the restaurant was nearly empty at 8 p.m., something that surprised even the waitress at the counter. It didn’t take long before patrons trickled in and filled up the booths and tables, filling the air with laughter and conversation.
The restaurant, located at Nebraska Highway 2 and Southwood Drive, is an ideal studying spot for University of Nebraska-Lincoln students because it is open 24 hours a day. Junior secondary English education major Alisha Starner from North Platte, Nebraska, said the hours and menu are selling points for the restaurant.
“You can get food that is decent; it’s not just a donut or a coffee,” she said. “Being able to get a real meal for super cheap is nice, especially while studying.”
Starner said the latest she’s been at the restaurant was around 3 a.m., working on a paper with a friend. With the week before finals week and all its deadlines looming, she said she’ll probably be at the diner often before the semester ends.
Trey Jurgens, a former student at Nebraska Wesleyan University, provided emotional support, or just simply sat with Starner, while she studied. Nestled against the booth’s green upholstery and playing a game on his phone, he said he likes “chilling” at the restaurant.
Across the room, Ellen Dexter from Davey, Nebraska, worked on Spanish homework. The sophomore environmental studies and fisheries and wildlife double major is trying to get a minor in Spanish, but said the six-hour language class was a lot of work and the homework was taking a long time.
Like Jurgens, Dexter was there because of an invitation from the friend studying next to her in the booth.
“I mean, I came because I was invited — I would have just gone home and gone to bed,” she said, laughing.
Dexter scrawled out her Spanish homework on a piece of paper, pausing occasionally to take a quiz on her computer or to chat with her friend. The two departed around 11 p.m., a much earlier departure time than normal.
The restaurant will most likely be filled with more students as the semester comes to a close, but the steaming coffee pot will be their guide as night transforms into morning.