Sometime between the Giuliani administration and way before the Highline, I learned that attempting a Saturday dinner in downtown Manhattan without reservations is tantamount to submitting to an act of masochism .
The interminable waits, being shuttled back and forth from the host podium or the 2″x 2″ tile on which the person with the clipboard is standing to a deafening and overly cramped bar space. The predominant thought, which all struggle to suppress during the no-end-sight-wait is, “why are we doing this to ourselves?”
On one such recent Saturday evenings, after refusing to accept 120 minute waiting times from a number of Hudson St. establishments, my party of three had finally landed upon a restaurant that offered a twenty-minute wait for a table. The seemingly humane place was Frankie’s Spuntino. We requested cell phone service for when our table would be ready so that we didn’t have to suffer being stampeded upon at the doorway or the bar, both of which were overflowing with people. Our dewy-faced twenty-something hostess obliged us. After walking around the block, we decided to check on the status of the table and wanted to make sure that we hadn’t been called just in case the hostess had gotten our number wrong. When we returned, the hostess told us that a table was opening up and that we’d be seated in five minutes and that we should wait by the bar until it would be ready.
After a twelve minute wait, I approached the hostess and asked her when we could expect to be seated. She replied that it would be about another forty-five minutes. Appalled, I immediately reminded her of the five minute wait that she’d indicated shortly before and that we were long overdue for our table. She lamely claimed that she’d been unable to locate us and that she had to assign the table to a different party. Nearly incredulous, I proceeded to point out that our name was also on the waiting list and that even if what she was claiming was true, we were due a table within a twenty minute time-frame. She summarily shrugged off my reasoning indicating that we’d been taken us off the waiting list. Oblivious to how preposterous and surreal all of this was, she proceeded to offer us a spot on the waiting list that entailed a forty-five minute wait. We let her know that she could keep her list and that adopting a mood ring operated seating policy would constitute an upgrade from what they have. I’m loath to say it, but those maligned beepers used in restaurant chains in the suburbs would at least introduce some measure of fairness.
Frustrated but far from claiming defeat, we proceeded to head to Dublin for a table. We were offered a table on the condition that we’d only be 75 minutes. Umm, no. On we marched to a surprisingly semi-empty Low Country only for more of the same: “But we’ll be needing the table by 9:30.” No dice. We’d done enough penance just trying to find a place that would seat us. There’s no way we were going to rush to eat. Undeterred, we walked into El Charro, an Spanish staple on Charles St. and were hospitably welcomed and served piping hot baccala’ croquettes and various varieties of paella, including a tantalizing mariscada. It was a relief to be able to converse without straining our voices and ears, to be treated with dignity by a warm and accommodating wait staff and to be among seasoned New Yorkers including former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson, who sat at a neighboring table and was also visibly appreciating the adult ambiance at El Charro. Props to the old cowboy for not only saving our Saturday night but making it delicious and affordable too!