This is The Gatekeepers, a photo series Eater has commissioned from Michael Harlan Turkell. Herein, we're pleased to introduce you to the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
Casa Mono, from The Batali Restaurant Manufacturing Company, is a flat-out pain in the ass to get into. It's very small (42 seats), very popular, and very delicious, which means that getting in isn't getting easier (lunch is less problematic). Sitting at the bar and watching Andy Nusser and his team work the stove is a particular treat. Reservations and walk-ins are accepted for tables; the counter is strictly first-come-first-served. It's time you met Nancy Selzer and Amy Clark, two people who can help your cause, if they like you.
Nancy and Amy: By definition, we are "gatekeepers," as we have to control who come in/out of the door. Since we are so tiny, we decided at our inception that we would only allow dining at our counters. If we were to allow a bar atmosphere in Casa Mono it would quickly become so crowded and chaotic that it wouldn’t allow the type of service we strive to provide. Therefore we end up saying the same thing over and over "I'm sorry you can't just come in for a glass of wine." We try to maintain order in a way that's pleasant, and 95% of people understand our constraints. The hardest part is keeping professional composure when you're being berated or called a "bitch" by the other 5%, who aren’t accustomed to being denied immediate gratification of their wishes.
There have been days when 50% are walk-ins, due to cancellations, downsizing of parties, so if you're willing to hold out, we'll seat you. Understand we really want you to eat here. But, we only have 42 seats.
We take reservations on all the tables. There are 14 seats at the counter, available on a first-come-first-served basis. When we're full, we'll take your number and call you, and suggest Bar Jamon as an overflow option, but it's become a destination in itself.
You never know how the night's list will unfold. Sometimes the list looks almost 20 deep, but a good portion often drop off, so you never know. It can be a 1 - 1 1/2 hour wait on weekends during the peak hours of 7-10PM, or if you hit it right, much less.
People don’t always understand is the fact that we don’t seat incomplete parties. This can also be blamed on our diminutive size. If we’re expecting 3 parties of 4 at a given time, and only 2 of the tables are ready due to lingering guests, then we’ll hold out for whichever group completes themselves first. It’s only fair. Likewise, joiners are another sticky issue. The table that seats a party of 3 is a different size than the one that seats a party of 4, a party of 2 is different than 3 etc. We can’t “just pull up a chair” because that blocks traffic in the room and interferes with neighboring guests. The hardest one is we don't take parties of more than 6. If 8 come in we have to say, "We can't seat you."
We're open from 12PM-12AM in Casa Mono, lunch is wide open. Call the day before in the early afternoon and check on dinner cancellations, even the day of in the early afternoon. We've pulled 5 turns in a day, over 200 cover on a busy day, but you're best bet is still calling 3 weeks out.
We’ve had chefs and staff from pretty much every quality restaurant in the country, which is always fun. A very big percentage is neighborhood people, and we do try our best to accommodate them.