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.
Gotham Bar & Grill has been known for its classic atmosphere and cuisine for over three decades. To cut to the chase, it's famous, the chef Alfred Portale has won an 'Outstanding Chef' James Beard Award, New York diners and chefs alike like the place, and business hasn't been dropping off. What this means for you: if you try to eat here on a weekend night without a reservation, you can just forget about it. Or you can sweet talk Bret Csencsitz. You might still have to wait two hours, but a little courtesy goes a long way with this guy.
Bret Csencsitz, General Manager: We have 125 to 150 seats, depending on the number of large tables. I like being by the windows in the back, where it feels like a garden. The great thing about Gotham is the grandness of our dining room -- sitting in different areas gives you a whole different feeling. 8 P.M. on Saturday night, what’s the wait for a table? Well, 8 P.M. on Saturday is always hectic, so with a reservation there can be a short wait, not more than 15 or so minutes, but without a reservation, it can be up to 2 hours. We do have a few bar tables that can be available for people who walk in and on Saturday. Is there anything I can say to make my wait shorter? Courtesy and respect are always appreciated. I find it often helps, especially if you want something, to be kind. That being said, there are times when there just aren’t any more seats.
Ever been offered cash or gifts to speed things along?
A gentleman once offered one of our staff $50 upfront after she said we were fully booked. He said, “Fifty bucks change your mind?” It was a little “old school,” and she told him there was nothing she could do, even for $50.
Tell us about your favorite customers? Any celebs been by recently? We have many long time regulars, who have been great friends to the restaurant. We have quite a few celebrities, many of them live in the neighborhood and it’s great to see them, but we don’t reveal celebrity names. They get enough gossip in the papers without our help. How do you deal with VIPS, when there are no tables left? When our regular guests or VIP’s surprise us we do everything we can to accommodate them and that is where our bar tables really come in handy. Maybe we buy them a drink and squeeze them in as soon as we can...the owner's friends? As for the owners, they are very understanding when they have a short wait; they like it when we keep the restaurant full, after all.
What’s the most outrageous request from a customer you’ve had to accommodate? Daniel Boulud called me one night for a dinner for 16 chefs from Singapore, and of course it was for a Saturday night. We made it happen -- there is a real culture of camaraderie between chefs. The table was for a little later than they hoped but it worked out.
...that you couldn't accomodate? We once had a guest request that a male stripper be allowed to strip in the restaurant during dinner for a friend’s bachelorette. I’ve dealt with some interesting alcohol requests. At a past position, I had a regular who wasn’t allowed to drink, so he would ask for a glass of chardonnay or a martini to be prepared for him and waiting in the bathroom. He would drink it in the bathroom and then pay cash on the way out so it wouldn’t show up on the bill.
What’s the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job? A sense of humor. If at the end of the day you can’t smile at the turmoil it isn’t worth it. When you're not at Gotham, where are you eating? I mix it up a lot, Dell’anima has been a recent favorite, but I try to keep up with other new spots as well. I love Picnic on 101st and Broadway -- great inexpensive food with a classic French feel. I can’t seem to stay away from the Lounge at Daniel for long either.