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The Gatekeepers: Back Forty's Michael Fuquay & Jerry Winter

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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.

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Krieger, 5/15/08

Back Forty, Peter Hoffman's follow up to his Greenmarket-centric Soho restaurant Savoy, is just over half a year old, and it already has a sizable following with the residents of Ave B, seasonal obsessives, and fans of serious burgers. It's located on the upper stretch of Avenue B, which still doesn't get the absurd foot traffic as the lower end of the avenue, so don't worry about long waits on weeknights. Once it hits Saturday though, expect Gatekeepers Jerry Winter and Michael Fuquay to show you to their lovely bar while you wait 30 min to an hour for your two-top.

Jerry Winter, partner: We have 65 seats, plus 14 at the bar, plus 40-50 once the backyard is open. Michael Fuquay, general manager: I prefer the bar myself, but I also love the big farm table up front. JW: Agreed. 8 PM on a Saturday night. What's the wait for a table? JW: Depends on the size of the party. Deuces we can usually seat within a half hour. Larger parties can be twice that. MF: Its possible to get lucky though.

Is there anything I can say to make my wait shorter? MF: Showing up with a complete party is the biggest thing. Some parties miss out on open tables because they're waiting on "that friend who's late to everything". JW: We only seat complete parties so as to be as fair as possible. The policy gets viewed as random fussiness on the restaurant's part at times but it really isn't. It helps keep things equitable and reasonably sane. Politeness goes a long way. Being on crutches has helped a couple people jump the line.

How about gifts or cash to speed things along?

MF: How about having a drink at the bar and we'll get you when your table is ready? JW: Agreed. Spend some money at the bar in lieu of gifts to us. And never underestimate the power of a cocktail to smooth your wait.

Tell us about your favorite customers? Any celebs been by recently? JW: We have numerous repeat guests who have supported us since we opened that we are hugely grateful for. As far as celebs we have had an interesting mix of writers, musicians and actor/director types come in. MF: Jen and Mike from Flying Pigs Farm come by after the Greenmarket most weekends. Pig farmers are celebrities right?

How do you deal with VIPs, when there are no tables left to give? MF: How about having a drink at the bar and we'll get you when your table is ready? JW: I may point out who at the bar is about to be seated and suggest they try to slide in behind that party and eat there. The bar was designed with diners in mind and really is quite comfortable. ..the owner's friends? JW: I think most people coming in at prime time understand there will probably be a wait.

What's the most outrageous request from a customer you've had to accommodate? MF: We get a pretty cool crowd, so nothing too crazy. I bought a bodega burger bun for a guy that couldn't eat sesame seeds one night, does that count? JW: Nothing outrageous comes to mind. Smaller groups wanting larger tables. A party of 4 wanting to pay with 6 credit cards and a handful of Susan B. Anthony silver dollars. Fairly standard stuff. ...that you couldn't accommodate? JW: Michael was born to accommodate. MF: That may be, but I'm still not giving you a reservation.

What's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job? JW: Be cool. Be patient. MF: An easy smile and an open seat at the bar (did I mention that its lovely?) When you're not at Back Forty, where are you eating? MF: Sripraphai in Woodside, Sammy's Halal street cart in Jackson Heights and the occasional late bite at Terroir. JW: Dressler and Bonita are two favorites in Williamsburg.

Back Forty

190 Avenue B, New York, NY 10009 (212) 388-1992

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