This is The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
A favorite haunt for Chelsea artists, dealers, gallerists, and all manner of local residents, The Red Cat is a decade-old 10th Avenue mainstay. It won two stars from the Brunz three years ago and countless raves from the locals before and since. This means you're going to be waiting upwards of an hour here, especially during the big art seasons. The woman separating you from your table? Mayumi Grigsby, and she's going to try her best to fit you in.
Mayumi Grigsby, UMI, Service Manager: We have 85 seats in the restaurant with 13 stools at the bar. My favorite place to dine depends on what I am in the mood for: the bar has a lively atmosphere, the bartenders are lovely and most of our regular guests like to dine at the bar; for a romantic dinner, there is a corner table in the back that is quiet and gives you a great view of the entire restaurant; for a night out with a group, I want to be in the middle of all the action, I prefer the round table in the back dining room.
8 PM on a Saturday night. What's the wait for a table? It depends on the time of the year, and the fact that we are located in the heart of Chelsea near lots of famous art galleries. The wait normally ranges anywhere between 20 minutes to an hour, however, on gallery nights and during the holidays, everything can change. I try to accommodate everyone as quickly as I can, all the while being completely honest about the wait. I have recommended other restaurants in the area and suggested art galleries nearby when I know it's going to be a long wait. Is there anything I can say to make my wait shorter?
No, but, patience and positive energy helps. It might also be a good idea to compliment my hair – I am not promising anything, however. ...How about gifts or cash to speed things along? No, I would only succumb to food and I am fortunate enough to work in a restaurant with an amazing menu.
Tell us about your favorite customers? Any celebs been by recently? My favorite guests are a sweet couple from across the street. They have dined at the Red Cat every other Saturday at 8:15 for 8 years. They are like family at this point and when they arrive everyone from the kitchen, to the door, to the bar, stops by their table. They have come in while award-winning actors and writers have been dining in the restaurant, and all the attention is on them.
How do you deal with VIPs, when there are no tables left to give? I act the same as when a new guest walks in and asks for a table when I have none to give – I smile, am completely honest about my wait, and I try to get them seated as quickly as I can. ..The owner's friends? Most of the owners' friends are in the business so they usually understand. They always call ahead which helps immensely.
What's the most outrageous request from a customer you've had to accommodate?I am really lucky with the clientèle we have, I honestly cannot think of anything outrageous. ...that you couldn't accommodate? Turning off the music completely until they left.
What's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job? I have three – a smile, sugar-free Red Bull and chocolate-covered Altoids. When you're not at the Red Cat, where are you eating? It varies – Schiller's, The Little Owl, BLT Burger, Hill Country.