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The Gatekeepers: Bar Milano's Janet Kim

Krieger, 8/20/08

Bar Milano, Jason and Joe Denton's foray into fine dining opened four months ago in the lower reaches of Murray Hill. It doesn't offer the scene or vibe of the brothers' downtown projects 'ino and 'inoteca, but they've managed to attract a number of curious fans and Northern Italian food lovers to make their way over the East 24th Street including critics like the Brunz (two stars), the Plattster (two stars), and the RG (three stars). If you want in, you'll be speaking to Janet Kim, maitre'd, who assures us the end of summer slow down means you'll have a much shorter wait than usual.

Janet Kim, Maitre'd: We have about twenty one tables in the main dining room and we have nine tables in the bar area and eight bar stools. My favorite table is in the far corner in the bar room. You get a full shot of all the excitement in the bar and the view of the street corner of 24th and 3rd (which has been proven to be more interesting than what's going on in the restaurant).

8 PM on a Saturday night. What's the wait for a table? It's hard to say what a usual wait is going to be since we've only been open four months, and two of those months have been in the summer. At 8 PM on a Saturday right now there really isn't much of a wait. On busy nights, waits are running from 20 minutes to an hour.

Is there anything I can say to make my wait shorter?

Not really. There have definitely been times when we have been running later than normal. A please and a thank you and being gracious about it always helps and that's about it. How about gifts or cash to speed things along?If somebody gives you a gratuitous bill on the way out that's one thing, that's a way of saying thank you?someone's way of saying thank you. If you're looking to buy a table from me, that doesn't happen. There was somebody who did come in once and we didn't have any tables available and he did try to buy one from me, and then tried to give money to my hostess. At the end of the day?no, it does happen.

Tell us about your favorite customers? Even for being four months old, we are really lucky to have people in the neighborhood who have come back and treat it as a regular spot. I think that my favorite customers are people who are really "old New York," who come in for dinner and they get dressed up and they treat it as an occasion as opposed to just a meal. They make an eight o'clock reservation a month in advance, they pay attention to the food and the service and they really appreciate it.

Any celebs been by recently? I knew you were going to ask this question. We've gotten a couple celebs in the last four months, nobody really exciting—no, I shouldn't say that. John Leguizamo comes in, he's a regular at Lupa. Helena Christensen came in, and my 21 year-old hostess said, "Who is that?" and I thought, I feel old. I asked her if she knew who Chris Isaak is, and she didn't, and I said, "Oh no, Jesus, I feel really old." A handful of other people come by. The lead singer of Interpol was in recently.

How do you deal with VIPs, when there are no tables left to give? No matter what a maitre d says there's always an extra table in your back pocket. There should be some flexibility somewhere. There's always flexibility somewhere?even if you have to wait a few minutes, there's gonna be a table.

What's the most outrageous request from a customer you've had to accommodate? Unfortunately, no outrageous requests. It's kind of sad. I'm waiting for the fall to kick in when the New Yorkers are back and it gets busier. Any strange sights?: Yes, seeing the place change from a construction site to a restaurant in a matter of a few hours on opening day...and then ending the evening with a woman jumping out a cake, while playing a ukelele.

Ever spotted Bruni or the other critics on their visits? How does that affect the service? Yes, we have. There's definitely a level of tension?we want to make sure everything goes well for them, just like we do with every other guest. They are critiquing their experience. It's definitely stressful and all of us are highly aware of that, but at the end of the day we're doing it for everybody and not just the critics.

What's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job? Number one of course is very simple: please and thank you. It goes a long way. Whether I say it or someone says it to me, it makes the night easier. Number two: I have a very specific pen I use— it says "podium" on it, it's just my very special writing utensil. Number three is a bag of Haribo gummi bears in the service station.

When you're not at Bar Milano, where are you eating? There are so many places?I would say?it depends on what it's for. Late night I like Sushi Seki, lunch I go to Zucco's on the LES. For a fancy dinner I love going to Daniel and sitting at the bar.