Friday night, 9:30PM, Mulberry and Grand, Little Italy, New York, New York. I'm looking for dinner, and an interesting experience. There are millions of people out, enjoying the nice weather (although Hurricane Hanna is on her way), enjoying the atmosphere...
Where will I eat? What will I eat and drink? What will I see?
There are a lot of choices, see the map above, all those little circles are restaurants - every restaurant has their menu posted, and each has a nice hostess who pounces on any seemingly interested would-be diner examining a menu. But there is more at stake here than what to eat, there is also where to sit... Every place has tables on the street, and you want to be on the street, because that's where the action is... plus, you want to be seen on the street! If you're seen at a back table, well, that's social death, isn't it? And you want a large table, because, well, large tables are nicer, and anyway if someone sees you at a large table they'll know you are someone special, even if they don't know why. And more importantly you'll feel special, because if you weren't special, you wouldn't be at a large table, now would you?
Okay, back to the hostesses... They have a lot of power, because they decide where you are going to sit... but you have power too. You can go to the next restaurant, or the next one, or the next one... and one thing each hostess knows - if she has been doing this for a while - she knows if you know how the game is played. And they like the game. If you're a tourist and you walk up and say "I'd like a table for four" and she walks you to the little back table at the end and you sit down, you're not playing the game, and she's not having fun.
So I walk up to the menu at Sal Anthony's, that is the blue square on the map above. Perhaps it was the location, perhaps it was the look of the awnings, perhaps it was the menu, perhaps it was the hostess? :) So I walk up to the menu, and she walks up to me.
The best way to play this game is to be with a pretty girl. You are male, the hostess is female. She has no idea who you are, but if you're with a pretty girl, she trusts the girl, and you must be cool if she's with you. The prettier the girl you are with, the nicer the table you will sit at, and everything goes on from there.
But I'm alone; the pretty girl strategy is out. I have to get by with Plan B, which is ask don't answer...
Hostess: "Would you like to have dinner?"
Me: "I'm not sure, where would I sit?"
I have signaled that I'm playing the game. She smiles.
Hostess: "Table for one?"
Me: "Um, maybe a table for two?"
Staying vague... no need to lie but no need to tell the whole truth either.
Hostess (walking over to a little back table at the end): "How about this one?"
Me: "Huh, would I like to sit here?" (pauses...)
The hostess knows I'm playing the game, she knows I would not like to sit here, so this is a rhetorical question. If she pushed back, something like "absolutely, this is a great table", I might have to ask "can I see the street from here?", or possibly start walking back toward the street. But this did not happen.
Hostess (walking up to a little table on the street): "How about here?
Me: "Perhaps... would I have enough room?" (pauses...)
The answer is yes, I would have enough room, but my question is not whether I would have enough room. My question is, would you consider giving me a larger table.
Hostess: "I think you will enjoy this very much." (smiles, this is the close)
Me: "Huh..." (looks around, and 'accidentally' hits an adjacent table's chair) "Huh..." (pauses...)
I must tell you I would have been happy with this table, it was nice, but just then I see four people getting up from a larger table.
Me: "Perhaps... could I sit there?" (points to vacated table)
Hostess: "I don't know, I'd have to ask the manager" (frowns)
She doesn't have to ask the manager, but she will have to explain to the waiter why she sat one person at a table for four. I plan to take care of that by ordering a nice bottle of wine, but she doesn't know that yet... this could go either way.
Me: "I'm actually looking for some friends, and that way I won't have to move later?"
This is not quite a lie, I am always looking for some friends, I just don't know some of them yet :)
Hostess (walks over to bigger table): "Okay, enjoy your dinner!" (smiles and concedes defeat)
Me: "Thank you! Could I please see your wine list?" (telling her don't worry, this will work out)
Yay! A big front table at Sal Anthony's on a Friday night, what could be better?
One thus started, the snowball rolls. The waiter treats me like royalty; I'm alone at a big front table, I must be important. I order a nice bottle of wine (a smoky Sicilian, on the recommendation of the waiter), and I manage to drink most of it while enjoying Fritti di Calamari followed by Veal Scaloppine ai Funghi. And I wrap it up with an amazing Cannoli - paired with a little espresso - ah, what could be better?
And meanwhile, it's all happening... by sitting at a front table on the street, you become part of the street, as people walk by, you nod and say "hi", they nod and say "hi" back... you have the confidence of being at a front table, alone, and that transmits itself; passers by wonder who you are, and why you're there... (and possibly, why you are smiling :)
For people watching there is absolutely nothing like Friday night in Little Italy. You see tourists - lots of them - families gazing around in every direction, at the people as much as at the street, the stores, and the restaurants. You see locals out for a stroll, couples, kids in groups. Guys looking for girls (singly or in pairs), and girls looking for guys to look for them (in groups). People selling, and people buying, people relaxed, and people hurrying by, seemingly on a mission. You see every shape and size of human, dressed up or down in every possible outfit, often riding every kind of human-powered vehicle: bikes, skateboards, scooters. And I must confess to a particular joy, when you are seated your attention is drawn to all kinds of shoes, a variety matched only by the people wearing them.
You never know what you'll see, especially after a bottle of Sicilian wine :)
Oh, the things you might see in New York can't be beat...
...and to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street!