Last fall, Danny Abrams brought his East Village "fish shack" Mermaid Inn to the Upper West Side. The space is remarkably similar to the downtown version, the crowd, remarkably different (very UWS). Perhaps more of a neighborhood spot than a destination, it's a place where local couples have standing reservations every week and Gatekeeper Keith Mannino knows exactly when to expect them.
Keith Mannino, Manager: When the cafe is open we have 92 seats. Without the cafe we have 74. No question, I prefer the front room the atmosphere is lively, the bar is there and we have the doors open in the summer months and cool store-front windows in the winter...If you are looking for a little quieter table away from the hustle and bustle, you may want to wait for a table in the back dining room where the new soundproofing on the ceiling has cut the noise level considerably.
8 PM on a Saturday night. What's the wait for a table? Can be up to an hour or more. Unless.......Is there anything I can say to make my wait shorter?
That all depends on who is saying it....How about gifts or cash to speed things along? Every man has a price. I'm a sucker for CD's, tickets, etc. No, seriously, we don’t accept any kind of incentives.
Tell us about your favorite customers? Any celebs been by recently? We have so many regulars it would be impossible. To reference a few though, we have a couple that comes in about four nights a week and wants to sit in the back...We have another couple that has a standing reservation every Sunday at 6:15. Then, we have Barb and Terry Singleton who come in for dinner several nights a week and sit at table 32 in the front and then head to the bar for after dinner drinks.
Ray Davies of the Kinks came in and took his shoes off as soon as he sat down. Lou Marini aka 'Blue Lou,' a famous sax player who has played with everyone and was in the original Blues Brothers band with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. The other night, Governor Paterson walked in unannounced. It was intense. All of the sudden, I looked up and Governor Paterson, his daughter and four security guards were surrounding me. I managed to get them seated right away and got the guards their own table.
How do you deal with VIPs, when there are no tables left to give? Have you ever seen 'Goodfellas'?
What's the most outrageous request from a customer you've had to accommodate? I sat a table and I took their drink order. One of the guests at the table wanted Absolut Citron which we don't carry, so I ran out to the liquor store and of course they were out - Strike 1. And as Murphy's Law would have it the second liquor store was out - Strike 2. In a last ditch effort to satisfy their request I went to Rancho—the restaurant next to The Mermaid—and they loaned me a bottle and I replaced theirs later in the week.
...that you couldn't accommodate? It was illegal. There was a table of four. They were paid but not finished with their cocktails they were in a hurry to get to the Beacon Theater for a show- The Government Mule (I think that's who they said they were going to see). Anyway they wanted to take their cocktails to go in to go cups. Obviously I had to deny their request.
What are the main differences between the crowds uptown and downtown both in makeup and attitude? The crowds downtown being that they are in the East Village tend to be a bit more on the artsy/alternative side. Also we get a lot of neighborhood regulars that want specific tables and have standing reservations on the same day each week at the same time. That's not to say there aren't regulars at the East Village Mermaid because there definitely are, but its on a lesser scale.
What about the wait times between the two places? Wait times are pretty close to the same however downtown it seems to be a steady even flow of guests working into a full house. Up here we tend to go from 0 to 120 m.p.h in minutes At 7 p.m. the whole restaurant goes from 30 guests to a full house.
What's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job? Old Pappy Van Winkle. When you're not at The Mermaid Inn, where are you eating? I'm not eating.