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East Side Social Club's Jim and Grace Gilroy

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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.

[Krieger, 1/6/10]

Less than two months ago, hungry Midtowners got what they'd been craving with East Side Social Club: a sleek, sexy 40's throwback eatery for those who don't want to deal want to deal with typical midtown restaurant politics (we're looking at you, Monkey Bar). Literally a family affair, the new bar/restaurant is run by Macao and Employees Only owner Billy Gilroy, his brother Jim, son Devon, and daughter Grace. Their no hassle, family run approach has been drawing crowds of Midtown locals and Downtowners alike. All of this means you'll have to speak with Jim and Grace Gilroy to navigate the waits. Let's see how the Gilroy family gets things done:

Grace Gilroy, General Manager and Jim Gilroy, Maitre d': GG: We have 113 seats, including our bar seating. Favorite seat in the house? GG: Booth 32. That’s what we save for VIPs. JG: I gotta tell you, if it’s a guy and a girl who are coming in, I’ll put them at that table over there, right before the back room on the left hand side—it’s out of the way and they can talk. It depends on who’s coming in and where they’ll be comfortable.

It's 8 PM on a Saturday night, what's the wait for a table? GG: You could be looking at an hour wait without a reservation. Thursday, Friday and Saturday we’re slammed at 8 and even people who have a reservation could have to wait a little bit. But we keep an ongoing waitlist throughout the night and invite people to the bar to have a cocktail or a snack. Everyone gets seated.

What can I do to make my wait shorter? JG: As long as you’re nice and polite we’ll try to accommodate you. Even if you’re not nice and polite, we’ll still try. ...How about gifts or cash to speed things along? JG: Nah, that’s never cool.

Do you have any favorite customers so far? GG: The local neighborhood people are my favorites. JG: We’ve had some really nice people come in and we’ve made some friends. Some really nice people. People who come back, we’ll try to bend over backwards to make them feel comfortable. GG: We keep notes in our computer system for repeat customers and for people who need special accommodations. I’ve found that in the service industry, it’s all about packing the house and making as much money as possible, and I think that what gets forgotten is that our goal to provide a good experience to the people who come in. If something gets messed up, we always make it up to people—maybe send out a dessert. How about celebs? JG: Yeah, they come in. GG: We’re not going to name names. JG: But it is nice to see them come in with their family and see them sit down and have no one bother them.

How do you deal with VIPs, when there are no tables left to give? GG: We always try to have a few tables open that we can play with for those types of situations.

What's the most outrageous request from a customer that you could accommodate? JG: There was a VIP who wanted to come in for dinner, but her body guard decided that we were too busy. So we brought her out some wine and she had a private tasting in her SUV. Any requests that you could not accommodate? GG: Our restaurant and our chef try to be really accommodating to anybody. If we don’t have something, we’ll run to the store and get it. We’ll make it happen. We haven’t had anything we couldn’t accommodate yet.

When you guys opened up, you were initially compared to Monkey Bar a bit. Do you think that's what you're going for? JG: No, like I said, we’re trying to focus on people be comfortable. I don’t know, they do great over there, I’d love to have their business, but we’re doing something different. GG: I’ve never been to Monkey Bar or The Waverly Inn. It’s flattering to be compared to them—to be in that category—but it’s not what we’re doing. We’re not trying to exclude people. We want families, we want everyone to come in.

What's it been like to work with so many members of one family in one restaurant? JG: So far so good. GG: And I live with my brother, who’s the chef, across the street. JG: We love each other. We don’t always smile when we see each other, but for the most part we do. GG: We all have different roles and it works. We don’t butt heads, we’ll go at it sometimes over an issue...JG: But at the end of the we get through it. She lives with her brother. And I live in the same building as my brother Billy [Gilroy].

Is it stressful living across the street from the restaurant? GG: Stressful? No, it’s amazing. Stressful was when I was living in Brooklyn before and during construction and having to sit through my hour commute thinking about all the work I could have been doing.

Have you had a mostly Midtown crowd, or have you been getting a lot of downtown customers as well? JG: Yeah, we have a lot of friends who seem to be making the journey. GG: And not just friends, a lot of people are coming up to see what’s going on here. But, our intention was never to bring Downtown to Midtown. We didn’t want to pull the crowd from Downtown to Midtown. We just wanted to open something cool in Midtown. JG: We wanted to bring a Downtown vibe up here.

What's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job? GG: The other day I was downstairs taking a reservation and when I get off the phone Uncle Jimmy says to me “who are you schmoozing now?” Kindness. I try to be really positive and kind to everybody who calls or walks into the restaurant. Jim said that to you? JG: Yeah, because she acknowledges people. Some places you’ll come in and walk up to the Gatekeeper and they’ll kind of look away. Just acknowledge people.

When you're not at East Side Social Club, where are you eating? JG: Uh, I had a piece of pizza on the way in. GG: We pretty much eat here. How about before the restaurant opened? GG: Franny's was one of my favorites. I also find myself eating at our other restaurants a lot, just to kind of keep in touch with what’s going on down there. JG: I still love The Odeon, Raoul’s is a great joint, and I love the Broom Street Bar for a burger.
—Matt Duckor

East Side Social Club

230 East 51st St., New York, NY

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