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'.

How I Eat Lunch

I love my neighborhood. I have had several homes in the general Noho, Western East Village, Bowery, and Nolita neighborhoods, and despite the frequently unfortunate development going on, I'm not leaving. I used to call it BumHo, but the winos are long gone. I used to call it Boho, too, 'cause that means bohemian and Bowery and Houston are kind of the center of something, but that never caught on. Anyway, it's a good, as-yet-unruined part of my neighborhood. And it's changing fast. The Bowery, once the city's most architecturally diverse and kooky avenue, is threatening to turn into Sixth Avenue, i.e., a future slum of ugly development-boom highrises.

There are some bright spots, though, like the New Museum going up, and Eric Goode and Sean MacPherson's new Bowery Hotel. The latter project is particularly admirable because the guys who brought us the Park and the Maritime bought what could have been the ugliest building in New York and completely rebuilt it. They're also opening a cute little hotel on 4th Street next to the B-Bar, tentatively called Cooper House.

Anyway, one of the things I love about my 'hood is that it's a good place to eat. We've got a good breakfast-and-lunch spot in the Noho Star (they do a good Chinese dinner, too). We've got the great dim sum and Peking duck of the Chinatown Brasserie, and two excellent Japanese places: Hedeh on Great Jones, in the building that was once Jean-Michel Basquiat's studio, and Bond Street (between Broadway and Lafayette). We are within quick delivery range of Balthazar and Kelley and Ping (on the Bowery). And we've got the best burger in town, in my opinion, at the tiny eatery Sparky's, on the triangle of Lafayette, Mulberry, and Bleecker. Sparky's is organic comfort food. Hot dogs, hamburgers, grilled cheese, fries, cole slaw, stuff like that—but all organic, grass-fed, and local. My wife says they have the best hot dogs anywhere. I like the bacon cheeseburger with the works. The lemonade iced tea is really good, and they sell corn-free sodas!


I have mixed feelings about declaring Il Buco the best restaurant in New York, because I love the fact that I can walk in some days and it's just me and Chuck Close's table for lunch, but I feel a change is bound to come as Ian Schrager's spectacular Herzog & de Meuron building comes closer to completion. I mean, one of these days I'm going to have to make a reservation. You do have to book ahead for dinner. Naturally. They serve spectacularly good food, and have a wonderful wine list. The chef, Ignacio Mattos, formerly of The Spotted Pig, is brilliant.

But Il Buco was great before Mattos arrived, under chef Ed Witt. I think that the food has been consistently (though perhaps increasingly) great has much to do with the restaurant's philosophy—start with the very best ingredients available. (At lunch time when you're crunching away on an unbelievable pork panini, you sometimes see the heritage Tamworth pig carcasses arriving from the Flying Pig Farm upstate.) Il Buco does for gastronomy what Sparky's does for fast food. They start with superlative ingredients—oil, salt, bread, produce, meat. I think some of my lucky friends are going to get Il Buco gifts for Christmas this year. They sell salt, oil, and vinegar in sets.

Anyway, I have mixed feelings about publishing this, so, well, uh, I'd prefer if you went there on the weekend, okay? They're closed Mondays. I'll be at Quartino, but I'm not telling you where that is.

Here's Il Buco with product. They don't sell the furniture anymore.