I used to be a host at a restaurant in Brooklyn. It was the wildest job I’ve ever had. The way we popped bottles of prosecco behind the bar–constantly–just bottle after bottle–the people wanted mimosas. It felt like the roaring twenties. It felt like Rome. Like the center of the world. Sorry I might have a little bit of an ego about it oh and look, now I have a sparkling mimosa in a coffee mug. When I drink it the sparkles get in my nose. I’ll just put it here on the bottom shelf of the host stand.
We did it analog back then. There was a sign-up sheet and a pen: no call-aheads, no online reservations, no apps, you just had to be there and write your name on the list. And if I called your name and you weren’t there–on to the next. The wait time? Thirty minutes. An hour. I looked at the list and I looked out at the tables–all of my tables–and I guessed the wait time. Eventually I got pretty good at it. We could do sixty… seventy covers at once. M was the most senior server and she whispered in my ear in my first days on the job–fill it up. She would come grab a menu and step into the throng of people and ask: who want’s this bar seat? And someone would take it. Fill. It. Up. The two top in the window no one wants? You go down the list of names until someone takes it. Someone will take it. It became the most thrilling puzzle. Can I fit three people at this two top? Where can I put a party of ten? How do I sell the communal table where no one ever wants to sit? It was so satisfying to see the place full. Brief moment of respite. Stars aligned. Sip mimosa from coffee mug. Sip coffee from other coffee mug.
It was in these conditions that Trevor Noah came to the host stand to get a table. I don’t recognize a lot of famous people but I recognized him. But I tried to pretend I didn’t. He signed in under his date’s name. They left.
They came back. And I had already skipped their name. Oh no, Trevor seemed actually worried. I tried to joke about it. Sorry no breakfast for you. Do not joke with someone who does jokes for a living. I’m just kidding. There’s a spot open at the bar do you want it? Oh sure. Oh sure okay. The two of them sat at the bar. R served them. R is lovely and has a really big laugh. She glitters in everything that she does and I saw all three of them smiling at each other. Trevor and his date finished their food and thanked R and thanked me.
Finally people are leaving. Finally, hours later, there is no list. The opening server goes home. The busser and the bartender chat while they wait for the last tables to leave. R comes up to the host stand. Anne, she says, I fffed up. Trevor ordered a grilled cheese on wheat and I forgot to request the substitution so it came out on white. And Anne. He didn’t say a thing.