Hidden Hangouts: Fairfax Denny’s

A hangout hidden in plain sight


Photo courtesy of Abby Clark

As I am seated at the local Fairfax Denny’s, happy to find shelter from the cool fall air, I am handed their Holiday Delights menu. 

I am impressed by the selections — their menu always runs just the right amount of comfort food without overstepping into more disappointing complex recipes. 

We are at Denny’s and all is well. At this point, Denny’s is the only house of respite in a cold, dark Fairfax County. 

To say it is the “only” house of respite does it a disservice. Denny’s is not bad as a late-night hangout. Indeed, its warm light and ample comfortable booths are infinitely more than what I could ask for at this point. In both instances, I find myself looking up to the servers here as demigods — as fosterers of warmth. 

The ability of the late-night crew — the late night crew say “good morning” — to memorize orders is a marvel of franchise capitalism. We are in their charge; they are what lies between us and our food. 

Yes, the food at Denny’s is transcendent on a cold autumn night. As I look around at my friends they are like puppies, hopeful for food but unsure of its arrival. 

They share stories of past visits here, of odd interactions they have had with the staff. Two of my friends come here weekly — my friend leans over to correct me, it’s actually almost daily — and have a rapport with members of the staff. They do it as a tradition to cap off a long day of studying.

I don’t have as many stories as them, but I do recall one time when our hot chocolates were brought out without their famous whipped cream. When we asked for whipped cream, the server brought a can to the table and offered to put it on top of everyone’s hot drinks, cocoa or coffee. It was a struggle, as the canister came close to running out, but we got there in the end to wondrous applause. 

I look around to survey my friends’ opinions of the food. Many of the initiated know exactly what to get: the value menu’s $8 sizzlin’ country steak and eggs hotplate. It sizzles, it’s hot and you can put tons of hot sauce on it. 

My skillet arrives, and it smells heavenly. The plate sizzles. One comrade’s mouth is hanging open. Another burns his mouth on the potatoes immediately, something he does every time.

The flurry of consumption is over. I can’t ever truly return to the state I was in while I was there, but I don’t have to. The memory is there, and so are the good vibes.