How to Get a Table
In some circles, being "connected" means being able to get someone killed, as my dear friend Ronnie Cooke Newhouse puts it, "for a roast beef sandwich and a Quaalude." In other circles, being connected means that you can get a table at the Waverly Inn. I am connected in this way, although I often wish I could trade it for the other kind of connected. But I'm probably better off. Anyway, I am no longer assisting even friends in getting tables at the restaurant with the $50 truffled macaroni and cheese, mainly because it's a pain in the ass, but also on principle. I have always gotten myself into restaurants. And so, while I am forwarding all reservation requests to the Outback Steakhouse on Sixth Avenue, I will offer a couple of tips on how to get into a good, difficult restaurant.
Be warned. Maître d's are a tricky lot. Here is the famously dapper Emile Warda of the Waverly, utterly incognito:
During my residence in the East End of Long Island I frequented the restaurant at the American Hotel, which is very pleasant, serves excellent food, and has a spectacular wine list. While I was a loyal, free-spending customer during those bleak, underpopulated winters, I still found it occasionally difficult to get a table during the "height" (I considered it depth) of the season. One day I was returning from a round of golf in the North Fork and called the American Hotel for a reservation for our foursome, which included at least one famous painter. I gave my name, and the Euro-accented girl on the line informed me, after a minute or two wait, that there was nothing. Hearing this, my friend Diego Cortez took the phone and called the restaurant back, perhaps two minutes later. Putting on his best fey WASP lockjaw accent he said, "I'd like a table for four at eight, please. The name is Auchinchloss. That's A-U-C-H-I-N-C-H-L-O-S-S. Thank you!" We had our four at eight. I was furious.
Then once in St. Barth's, similarly at the depth of the season, I was vacationing with the artist, musician, actor, and sportsman John Lurie, the singer Kazu Makino, and the painter and director James Nares. Every night John used the same strategy to secure us a good table at an in-demand spot: "I'm calling to make a reservation for Congressman Nares." Now James was and is an imposing figure, about six-five, handsome, distinguished. I'm sure he could have gotten away with Senator Nares. What they made of his distinctly British accent I never knew, but I still call the great artist Congressman Nares. Here he is in his studio:
That thing you see in the movies, slipping the maître d' a bill. I guess it might work sometimes if the bill is a Ben or bigger, but I believe in long-term relationships. Next holiday season when you're gifting the doorman and the super, don't forget the loyal maître d'.