Towards the end of a meal in another city I addressed our server: "I really want to thank you, the service has been great," I told her. She replied to me that she didn’t deserve the praise, that the service had been from a team, and that everyone working there was a part of it. That self-effacing person is the one in this world who has reminded me the most of Juliette Pope, who after almost 20 years will be leaving Gramercy Tavern towards the end of June. In fact, I have never heard Juliette take sole credit for anything, ever, and for years going on over a dozen she has accepted praise of her wine program only while pointing out that she follows in the footsteps of "blessed predecessors" who set the template in place. That is nose-to-tail hogwash of course, and one of the praiseworthy aspects of the Gramercy Tavern beverage program as a whole has been its steady improvements over the years. The desire to get better without taking a bow for it. Before the craft beer boom there was a page of them on the GT wine list. Before cider was cool, you could drink some good ones at Gramercy. If you wanted a non-alcoholic option, you would find wonderful choices. And few programs lavished as much care on the selection of the least expensive wines on the list. "We want to make comfortable feel extremely fine," Juliette told me once, and she did.
Unusually for a wine person, Juliette came up on the kitchen side, having worked every station of the line at Gramercy over a couple of years before turning down a sous chef offer from Tom Colicchio (she would have replaced Marco Canora), to head out on the floor. Crucially, I think, for understanding Juliette was her rationale: she didn’t think she could do well at restaurants without understanding the front of the house. Having no experience of it myself, I asked her once what the key was to succeeding on the kitchen line and she told me that it was to make lists and be organized. That impulse clearly carried over with her to the wine side, as Juliette was a coach for the fundamentals. Is the wine list updated, with the correct spelling, vintage, and price? Is the server conversant in the wines? Is the bartender? If you were at Gramercy Tavern the answer was yes, and all of that takes a lot of time to make right. If you ask Juliette to describe herself she is a "glorified back-waiter," and she is exactly the kind of person who looks to see if there are drinks to run if she has spare time. She is also a tough grader, and I know that distributors consider it a special kind of coup to have a wine poured by the glass at Gramercy Tavern.
Juliette invested a lot in other people, and she developed and promoted several women who worked with her in the beverage program. Usually known for her even keel manner of speaking (a mark of the restaurant professional who has repeatedly dealt with chaos by remaining calm), Juliette would get particularly excited when the conversation would turn to training young staff members. When she told me that she tried "to tap those veins in people where they didn’t even know they cared about wine and suddenly they’re obsessed," it was clear to me that she saw something of herself in every new recruit. Hers had also been a circuitous route to wine. She drew a lot of strength from having started at the bottom of the ranks, and she often rooted for the underdog, the unheralded achiever, whether that was a wine or a person, admiring those who got better with time.
Juliette has not announced her future plans.