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Manhattan Diner Is Pre-Dawn Gathering Place for City's Muslims

A look inside the downtown diner that transforms to an unofficial pre-dawn hub for the city's fasting Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan.

Midnight Ramadan Brunch

July 21, 201402:37

At a corner in lower Manhattan, surrounded by skyscrapers, iron-cast historic apartments, and chic galleries sits Bubby’s restaurant. An eclectic 24-hour diner, it specializes in organic home-made pies, thick chocolate chip pancakes, and a menu filled with old-fashioned farm food. Their decorations showcase a retro small-town; rocking chairs, a fake cow, and vintage coke signs, but the ambiance and attitude is of a trendy city restaurant. New Yorkers have given this establishment, which offers a cozy dining experience, its culinary stripes.

On this night though, at 1:30 a.m., Bubby’s embarks on a different dining experience, serving over one hundred Muslims for their pre-dawn meal during the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, during which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset.

“So I love Bubby’s and I love brunch, so I decided to have a brunch in the middle of the night,” says Rafia Ali, a lawyer who organized the late night feast. “Bubby’s is my go-to spot.”

Midnight Ramadan Brunch

July 21, 201402:37

Abstaining from food and drink for more than twelve hours a day, in weather that can hover near 90 degrees with high levels of humidity, the window of time for Muslims to fuel-up and hydrate for the day is a precious sliver.

Yet before any Muslim starts the day-long fast, he or she must eat a pre-dawn meal.

“A lot of people go to what we call iftar, where we break our fast when the sun goes down,” says physician and venture capital consultant Saquib Rahim. “From there, there will be prayers afterwards, and it ends up becoming a social hang out and if we are still together early in the morning we’ll end up sharing a meal.”

“I’m like a 6-year-old. I will eat chocolate chip pancakes for the rest of my life and there’s nothing better"

Rahim, who was invited for the early morning feast via Facebook, also explained that most of these late-night meals are spontaneous -- the result of spur-of-the-moment text messages and social media updates.

“I’m like a 6-year-old. I will eat chocolate chip pancakes for the rest of my life and there’s nothing better,” says Rahim when asked what he will eat at two in the morning. “It’s dessert for breakfast.”

By 1:40 am, over 100 hungry Muslims--a mix of recent college graduates and young professional New York City transplants representing a variety of backgrounds-- sit crammed into the back room at Bubby’s. Space was tight and many shared seats while others stayed standing. As sunrise approached, so did a flurry of food and drink orders.

Dozens of Muslims gather for a pre-dawn brunch at Manhattan diner Bubby's during the holy month of Ramadan.Sharaf Mowjood/NBC News

Zachary Darneille, the food server and floor manager for Bubby’s, said that the staff added servers and waiters to help with the anticipated volume of orders. He also said that throughout the evening, the most ordered items were orange juice, the griddle special and huevos rancheros, in addition to a steady demand for refilling water bottles.

“We do it a lot at midnight brunches,” said Darneille, “but this was a special occasion for water bottles.”

For many attending Muslims, the meal was more than just an early breakfast. It was also a chance to reconnect with people, and value the essence of Ramadan.

"you focus on the fact that for a lot of people this is their reality, and we are very blessed that when the sun sets, I know I’m going to have a meal"

Rahim explained that for him, fasting is also about controlling emotions and gaining a spiritual perspective.

“If you focus on how hungry and thirsty you are it is going to make the day difficult,” he said. “Instead, if you focus on the fact that for a lot of people this is their reality, and we are very blessed that when the sun sets, I know I’m going to have a meal and I’m probably going to have a meal with people I care about.”

By 3:45 a.m., the majority of people were hailing yellow cabs speeding through Tribeca to head back to their apartments to catch the dawn prayer. Bubby’s went quiet, with the staff cleaning up from the more than 100 guests.

As Darneille, the floor manager congratulated his team of waiters, chefs and busboys on a job well done, he noted that serving 100 Muslims at a frantic pace before dawn is nothing peculiar.

“At Bubby’s we see everything, like every holiday we are here experiencing it with people which is really cool and I really enjoy it,” said Darnielle. “That’s the greatest thing about New York, how diverse it is. How you get every walk of life through New York City.”