In 'Last Call at Elaine’s,' Brain McDonald, who tended bar at the Upper East Side saloon-cum-salon from 1986 to 1997, recalls his time as a recovering alcoholic, trying to stay sober in one of the city’s most glamorous drinking dens.
With some wondering whether threats of a recession will bring restaurant prices down, we asked him for insight into a place where businessmen don't think twice about ordering the $700 pour of cognac for dessert.
Identical twins Heather and Rose MacDowell waited tables for five years in Manhattan before penning their novel, Turning Tables, out next week. Rose won’t name the restaurants they worked for, offering only that she was at one of the Ark Restaurants in Manhattan (it operates the Bryant Park Grill and others), while her sister worked at a defunct Italian restaurant in the Columbus Circle area. Nevertheless, she was quite candid about the industry she says she could only cope with via on-the-job hookups and shots snuck from behind the bar.
Lurie De La Rosa knows a thing or two about cocktails: She worked at Pegu Club under Audrey Saunders (her “New York mom”) and with Jim Meehan, who asked her to help him open his debut spot PDT. “I wasn’t sure what he meant by a ‘hot dog bar,’” she tells us. Indeed PDT is unique in that it pairs Crif Dogs with Snoop Dogg, something De La Rosa says was “scary for a little bit. I came from this world of classic music and jazz.” But she has adjusted admirably and is now part of a family that includes Wylie Dufresne, David Chang, and the occasional naked patron.
When we called the 2nd Avenue Deli asking to speak to a server, we assumed they’d hook us up with one of the one or two old-timers left over from the East Village original. Instead, they looked to the future, and we were connected with Antoinette Morelli, who was a bank teller (and before that a server on the World Yacht) before starting at the pastrami palace’s new location. “Coming to work that first day,” she told us, “I had butterflies in my stomach because we had all the media here and we couldn’t move. They thought I wasn’t going to make it, but I surprised them.” She surprised us, too, by sounding like an old hand.
By now even the unrepentant Paul Jankas of the world know that One if by Land, Two if by Sea is widely regarded as the most romantic restaurant in the city. Normally we’d hesitate to match a cheesy holiday with a played-out restaurant, but now that new chef Craig Hopson, formerly of Picholine, has replaced the humdrum chicken Kiev with entrées such as turbot poached in coconut milk with peeky toe crab, mango and sea beans (you can peruse the new menu here), we don’t feel the least bit corny about asking Michael Lombardozi, a waiter at the West Village institution for seven years, to walk us down lovers’ lane.
It’s late in the day on Fat Tuesday, and our mind has turned to sweet, sweet hurricanes. As soon as we’ve observed our Super Tuesday duties, we might just head over to Mara’s Homemade, where we’ll try to pack into the tiny restaurant run by Mara Levi and her husband, David. While their son mans the kitchen, their daughter, Chana, works the floor. During Mardi Gras, it can get pretty crazy, Chana tells us. “People are dancing, and you think, How can they dance when there’s no room to walk? Somehow, they find a way.” We asked her what else to expect and to explain crawfish cheesecake to us.
Last night at Peter Luger, around 9 p.m., Lindsay Lohan dined with a large party, sporting black patent-leather quilted ankle boots with black semi-opaque tights and a black crushed velvet jacket that came to mid-thigh. One man who wasn’t fazed by this? Waiter Bernard Patten. Since moving from his native Dublin in 1985, he’s seen it all, first at the Waldorf-Astoria and then, for the past eighteen years, at Luger. The Williamsburg bastion of dependability has been going through some changes lately — a new steak on the menu, an expanded kitchen, and a new dining room (seen here) that Patten tells us has eased waiting times. In about six months, there will also be an upstairs lounge and bar with an adjoining private-party space. We asked Patten how he’s been weathering the changes.
Jeffrey Trunell was an actor who did commercial work in L.A. before moving here. He was a doorman at La Esquina when Armin Amiri asked him to help open his new club. (Amiri must have reconsidered once turning Trunell away from Bungalow 8.) In the time Trunell’s worked the door at Socialista, he’s been spat on by at least one person he turned away, something he says was “exciting in a disgusting way” — all part of the “fluid experience” of his equally enviable and unenviable position.
For three years Chizuko Niikawa has been a sake sommelier at hideaway Sakagura, the restaurant in the bowels of a midtown office building. In that time she’s served everyone from clueless first-daters to one of Japan’s most notorious soccer players (who apparently gets his feathers ruffled if he’s served vegetables) to a certain famous chef that she then knew only as Mr. Kakunko, a reference to his proclivity for dining at the bar with his favorite $100 bottle of sake for company. We asked her to clue us in about the art of sake.
Yesterday we caught wind that Christopher Mintz-Plasse, the actor who played McLovin in Superbad, was at Diner on Friday night. Naturally, we wondered whether he had attempted to procure an adult beverage. And who better to tell us than Michael Rankin, who has been a waiter at the converted twenties railcar for three out of the nine years it’s been serving up slow-cooked American food? Rankin had plenty to say on the celebrity front (Bono biting a bartender?) and the foodie front — including a convincing reason the humble establishment might overtake its neighbor Luger in steak supremacy.
Frankie Marshall was a bartender (and a singer) for years before she became a server at Wakiya in the Gramercy Park Hotel. And what a place to serve! She waited on Adam Platt before he panned the restaurant in New York, and Frank Bruni, who hit it off with her and quoted her making a racy “tung” joke in his takedown of the restaurant. Now that the reviewers have moved on, she’s left to serve folks like Ron Wood of the Stones, who let her feel his cashmere sweater. “Jimmy Fallon kissed me [good-bye],” she says. “I was hoping for tongue, but he wouldn’t deliver.” Anna Wintour, on the other hand? Not quite as friendly.
Andrei Bancea worked at an Italian restaurant in his native Bucharest, Romania, before moving to Italy for three years and then to the United States, where he started work as a waiter at Downtown Cipriani and eventually moved on to the chain’s 55 Wall Street location. “It’s a very successful company in
Italy, so it was a big opportunity,” he says. And a very successful company here, too, if you ignore the tax-evasion and sexual-harassment lawsuits! We asked Andrei what life is like on the inside.
Courtney Yates isn’t bothered that customers stereotype her because she’s one of the many Coffee Shop servers who also happen to be working models (you may have seen her in a Belvedere ad shot by Terry Richardson). “People come in with a chip on their shoulder,” she says, “but once you show that you’re a complicated human being, it’s out the window. I know I’m not stupid.”
Nelson Hernandez was a teacher for ten years before he decided he’d rather make art than teach it. He now performs around town as a singer-songwriter and pays the rent by waiting tables at Marco Canora’s joint Insieme. Since Insieme is located directly across from the darkened Winter Garden, we thought Hernandez might be just the person to tell us what the scene has been lately at a restaurant that caters both to theatergoing tourists and to homegrown aficionados of contemporary Italian cuisine.
Bryan Coomansingh was working at Atomic Wings when he got the opportunity to graduate from chicken to a much more hallowed bird. He took a job as a cashier at Jive Turkey, the Clinton Hill institution where soul-food lovers who’d rather not set their apartments on fire can buy entire fried turkeys in flavors ranging from Peking to Zinfandel. At this point it’s too late to have one shipped for your Thanksgiving dinner— if you’re still bent on picking one up and plan to brave the line at the tiny store (where Bryan also acts as doorman), you may want to read this.