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The Gatekeepers: Travis Lee Kaufman

On we go with The Gatekeepers, a photo series we've commissioned from Michael Harlan Turkell. For the next several weeks, we'll be presenting portraits of The Gatekeepers: the very folks that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.


Frankies Spuntino 17 Clinton Street is an offshoot of the immensely popular Frankies 457 Spuntino in Carroll Gardens. While its massive following matches that of the original (for good reason; try to say no to the meatball sandwich), its size does not. The result is epic waits and, as you're about to read, entire meals consumed standing up. The gatekeeper, and partner, who keeps the list: Travis Lee Kaufman.

Travis Lee Kaufman: "No reservations, it's all walk-ins, most with a 745 dinner-time mentality. We love our customers, but we only have 12 tables. Last weekend I was quoting 2 hour waits, taking numbers, names, sending people to bars around the corner, but you know what, most everybody ate."

"There are 6-8 spots at our bar, spots, not seats. We have people that come and stand for a 4-course meal. One night we had a group of six, all of them stood and had antipasta, a bottle of wine. It's distraction by proscuitto and lambrusco."

"No buffer zone here. It's very precise, that even the customer knows what table they're waiting for. We've had tables of three sit and try to add friends throughout the night. We don't encourage parties of more than four, just because we want to accomodate everyone. From the hours of 11am-7pm 7 days a week (except brunch) you can come right in and sit right down. We fill up within 15-30 mins and it slows down again at 1030pm."

"Our kitchen is like a ferrari. We have to turn over as much as possible (3-4x a night). Fast and friendly. It's a place to eat & drinks, not neccessarially to "hang out"."

"We're altruistic. No favorites, we take the blows. It doesn't have to be an adversarial relationship between us and our patrons. It's NYC, you have to absorb the heat. For the most part our clients rock. There's no mystery, no tricks. People think we have more cards to play than we do. We're simple and straight-forward, like our small plates concept."

Previously on The Gatekeepers: Iris Espinosa of Mary's Fish Camp; Ivilisse V. Esguerra of Mas; Mario Haro of Saul; the team at Spotted Pig; Joe Perret of Nobu; Ai Takami of Landmarc; Gabriel Stulman of The Little Owl; and Mario Wainer at Le Cirque.