In college, I worked a lot of restaurant jobs. Not at Zagat-recognized places with Food Network appearing, celebrity chefs. More like hole-in-the-wall downtown joints, or off the radar bohemian lounges where you might get tipped with some killer cannabis. My oddest stint was at a place owned by the mob. After Versace was shot, there was a long meeting in the basement below the restaurant. The staff were forbidden to fetch extra sugar caddies or mustard packets during the gangster assembly. Afterwards, I smiled innocently, tossed my blonde curls and asked Carlo what all the fuss was about. He told me not to worry about it and gave me a $100 bill for my hard work (not) unpacking the new wine glasses that afternoon.
At the time, it was important that I worked at places with low expectations. Both from management and the inevitably thankless patrons. I just wasn’t a high energy, song-and-dance type waiter, doling out the bells and whistles for a big tip. I didn’t chit-chat. I was often bored, easily distracted, always looking for an opportunity to break for a cig or lean my lazy self against a counter (I, of course, wore 3 inch platform heels to mix cosmos behind the bar all night…my feet didn’t thank me either!). The truth is, I was young, eager to make my cash and go home to my little SoHo flat with cockroaches and cute musician neighbors who’d come over and drink beers on my fire escape. I cannot say those days waiting tables showed my exemplary work ethic. Or foreshadowed my later love of food and fine dining.
Back then, I always ended up at places where my lackluster attitude was more than adequate as long as I was endearing to the proper owner or manager. I realize now that my sanity was spared because I never worked in a place fancy enough to be tyrannized by fashion model coat checkers or sexual harassing wine directors.
I ask you: what’s the problem with wine directors? High-strung, dictatorial types who seem to pray on the innocence of those of us who like wine but may not know enough to call ourselves expert, or even, proficient at pairing. Post my days serving in restaurants, I’ve met more creepy wine directors eating in them—they always seduce me at first with their authoritative talk of tannins and their immaculate designer suits, but too often, it turns out they’re big douches. (Is that even the right plural for douche—douches?) I have inadvertently exiled myself from some of my favorite dining spots around town by flirting too much with an appealing wine director, then accepting an invite for a promising dinner date to discuss in greater detail my affinity for California vino over French or Italian, only to find he is nothing more than an alcoholic nutcase in Armani who I cannot risk seeing again, even if it means I can only ever order takeout from the restaurant that employs him. Thank God, it seems there’s a lot of transience in the wine director population of Manhattan so they move on eventually, and I get back to eating my favorite bucatini all’ Amatriciana insideLupa, instead of at home on my couch.
Trust me, mobsters are more charming than most sommeliers.