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The Gatekeepers: Zulekha Smith (aka "Zee")

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.


There is probably not much that needs to be said to introduce Freemans, the Lower East Side restaurant hidden away at the end of Freemans Alley, to this readership. So let's get to it. Today, our Gatekeeper is Zulekha Smith, aka "Zee."

Smith: Freemans is a great depiction of NY as a whole in both patrons and staff—a world-renowned architect, next to an up-and-coming actor, next to a neighborhood hipster having a dark and stormy. Sometimes it's hard to tell who works here and who dines here because of the diversity.

Never once have I really been thrown a name (not even the crew). Rivington artists and grandchildren, jet set crew, party vibers—I treat my porter the same as I would Chelsea Clinton. I'm the first point of contact, and won't let a bad experience trickle down from there.

There's a limited amount of reservations, and can accommodate 100 people, but don't even hold 10% of that. Check in at 7PM, make a call the day of, we're very good about calling back.

To say go downtown, walk down an alley, and maybe you'll be seated, you have to give them something special. Our return is the look that each guest has when they're finishing up a meal. It's the reward of intrigue. It's of the honesty conveyed, no pretension.

If there are no tables, it's worth a cocktail, and soaking in the ambiance. We'll try our best to work you in. There's no preferential treatment—sometimes the owners of the restaurant can't get a seat.

Sunday and Monday easy walk-ins, and we just opened for lunch, so "come down the alley, everyone is 'free' at FREEMANS"!

Previously in The Gatekeepers.


Freeman Alley, Manhattan, NY 10002 (212) 420-0012 Visit Website