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Beauty & Essex's Lisa Forero on Celebs and Free Champagne

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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, 06/01/11]

Beauty & Essex is the monster new restaurant/nightclub/pawn shop from Stanton Social's Chris Santos. In its short life, it has attracted throngs of celebrities and clubgoers, and racked up a few good reviews from some the city's top critics. It's also the only restaurant in New York with a free Champagne bar in the ladies' room. If you brave the line on a Friday or Saturday night, Lisa Forero will greet you at the door, take down your name, and eventually show you to your table.

It's 8 PM on a Saturday night. What's the wait for a table? I would say my first available table isn't until about 11:30 PM or midnight. We usually don't hold tables for walk-ins, but the bar and lounge areas have the full menu, and they're first come, first serve.

What about earlier in the night? Yeah, if you come in at 5 PM, our first turn is the slower one, so I can pretty much squeeze you in, deuces especially.

Is there anything I can do to make my wait shorter? Patience is always really nice. I want to help you out a little more if you're really nice to me. How about gifts or cash to speed things along? [Laughs] The book is so tight that it's hard to do something like that and not mess everything else up.

How many seats are in the space? We have 230 seats. It's a lot, but if you consider that on an average night we do 800 covers, there's never enough seats in the house.

Tell us about your favorite customers. There are these guys who have been coming here from the beginning. They're two lovely men, and they're not expecting to be seated right away, and you kind of always want to help those people out a lot more, when they don't feel entitled to anything, and they're happy to eat at the bar or anywhere you can squeeze them in — they're really, really great.

Do you get a lot of celebrities? Yeah, we do, we get a lot of them. Kim Kardashian has been in a couple of times, Lindsay Lohan came in three times in one week, Jonathan Cheban comes in all the time, Kirstie Alley — it's been nice.

How do you deal with VIPs when there are no tables left to give? I try to keep at least one or two tables in my back pocket for that situation where it's a Saturday night, and I get a call that says that Lindsay Lohan is coming in. I've got to kind of make sure that I have at least something available, preferably in the main dining room.

What's the most outrageous request from a customer that you've accommodated? There's this one woman who only likes table 69 — I like to think that it's not for any dirty purposes — but she just likes something about this table. It's a corner booth, and that's where she likes to go every time. She refuses to sit anywhere else. Does she know the table number? Yeah, she knows that table, and when she makes a reservation, she makes that request — she's dirty [Laughs].

Any requests that you couldn't accommodate? No, we're pretty good at accommodating most things.

Is it true that you offer free Champagne in the ladies' room? Yeah, we have a bar in the ladies room with a cocktailer who is down there at all times. It's a beautiful kind of room, it's set up to be more of a lounge, and women just hang out for hours. To torture the men, I assume. And me, in turn, because I don't get the tables back, because they hang out in the bathroom all night long. Do people take advantage of that? I'm sure they do, but it's such a nice thing for the restaurant.

What's your favorite seat in the house? I can't say 69, can I? [Laughs] I like the locket room in the back, and table 100 is my favorite. The corner booth has a nice view of everything.

When you're not at Beauty & Essex where are you eating? I really like Eleven Madison Park, I really like Stanton Social, but I liked it even before I started working here, and I like this tiny hole-in-the-wall pizza place right near my house called Nick's.

What's your most important gatekeeper tool? I think it's understanding that every guest is here for a reason, whether it's a birthday or an anniversary, and every guest is here to have an experience. You have to remember that every guest is seeing the restaurant for the first time, and seeing the chandelier, and walking through the pawn shop and not expecting such a beautiful space.

Do people actually buy things from the pawn shop? They do. It's becoming more of an active pawn shop. We are in a partnership with a company called EZ Pawn, and they're bringing in a lot of high-end things. The other day, this woman bought a $500 ring after dinner. It's nice, the Champagne in the bathroom probably does that to a lot of people.

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Beauty & Essex

146 Essex Street New York, NY 10002-2301