How We Almost Ate At Ye Waverly Inn


Dear Graydon Carter,

Hi, you don’t know me, I’m just a silly food blogger who likes to eat out sometimes. For example, yesterday I went to a Mexican restaurant in my neighborhood (Los Pollitos in Park Slope) and it was very tasty. We showed up there at 7 PM, without a reservation, and they sat us immediately. Granted, the food is very basic–I had a chicken burrito–but it’s nice to know it’s there. If I ever want a burrito, I can go there and that makes me happy.

Your restaurant, Ye Waverly Inn, seems to function in a different way. For starters: you don’t serve burritos. More importantly, though, you don’t take reservations. In fact, when people try to call your restaurant, they get a pre-recorded message that gives directions to the restaurant without taking messages. In other words: unless you know somebody who knows somebody, you can’t eat there. You’ve made the place a very exclusive joint.

Normally, this would be a really bad business model. Imagine a dentist who doesn’t take appointments and who only does dental work on people he knows. He’d be sucking lots of nitrous oxide to wile the time away. Only a dentist is not a restaurant; the dental profession thrives on consistency and skill; the restaurant business thrives on the very thing you’ve created with your restaurant: buzz.

Only, you’ve done it in a very clever way. You can justify your restaurant’s stand-offishness because (a) you claim that the restaurant isn’t open (your outgoing message says it’ll open in the fall); and (b) even though it is open and people are eating there, you claim it’s more of a private club, for people connected to you and the magazine. So no one can be mad for not being allowed into a private dinner right? I wasn’t mad when Angela Perkins had a birthday party in middle school that I wasn’t invited to, was I? I moved on with my life. And I’m happy to do that with your Waverly Inn.

Except, last week my parents were in town for my dad’s birthday. They were staying at a hotel–I’d rather not say which, in case you want to get into THEIR private dinner party (if you know what I mean)–and the hotel concierge, who they’ve known for years, told them that, if they liked, he could make a reservation for us at one of the hottest restaurants in New York: Ye Waverly Inn. “What we do,” said the concierge, “is we send a page to the restaurant a few days before in person. They secure the reservation and then we confirm the reservation with you.”

And that’s exactly what happened. My parents were thrilled. I was mildly enthused–I heard the food wasn’t so great–but I thought it would be cool to see what all the buzz was about. Maybe we’d see some glitterati. Or literati. Or both: Diane Von Furstenberg with Joan Didion sharing Mac & Cheese.

We showed up at the restaurant at 6:30, the time of our reservation. Actually, my parents were already there; I came (with Craig, my boyfriend ) a tiny drop after. We walked in expecting to see my parents at a table. Instead, we saw them talking to the host with disappointed looks on their faces.

“They don’t have our reservation,” said my mom.

I looked up at the host. “Really?” I asked. “Don’t you have a print-out?” I asked my mom.

“I do,” she said. “But they say that the person who the hotel made the reservation with–Courtney–doesn’t work here.”

“That’s weird,” I said.

“We don’t have a Courtney here,” confirmed the host. “And tonight we have a private dinner party, so we wouldn’t have taken the reservation.”

Was he calling my mom a liar? The hotel? Courtney?

Honestly, Graydon, I didn’t really care. I was over it. Instead, I was already brainstorming our many other restaurant options there in the West Village. And wouldn’t you know it, one of my favorite restaurants in New York–maybe in the world–Blue Hill, when we called, was incredibly gracious and agreed to take us in at 7. All we had to do was walk over.

And that’s what we did. And the meal was fantastic. Unpretentious, unfussy: just really good food in a really comfortable setting. By the end of the dinner, we’d forgotten that your Waverly Inn even existed. “Waverly Inn?” one of us slurred. “What’s a Waverly Inn?”

That would end our tale, except that, the next day, the concierge at my parents hotel was completely flustered by what had happened to us. He wrote your restaurant an e-mail that asked for an explanation, saying that the hotel’s page had made the reservation with Courtney five days prior. What had happened?

Your restaurant wrote back (and I quote verbatim): “We apologize profusely. Consequently, Courtney was let go yesterday and we would like to offer your guest a reservation this evening at any time of her liking.”

Courtney was let go?? But the host said there was no Courtney!!? You mean there WAS a Courtney and you fired her on our account? I doubt that very much.

And even if that’s true, that’s messed up! You fired someone for taking a reservation at your restaurant? Oh wait, it’s not a restaurant? It’s a private club? But how come pages from my parents hotel can get hotel guests in? How did Frank Bruni get in? Or, for that matter, Ruth Reichl? Graydon, what’s going on here? Are you a club or a restaurant? Make up your mind.

It was nice of you, though, to invite us back. Maybe we’ll take you up on that in a few months and we can evaluate your club/restaurant on the merits. But, as for right now, I think I’ll stick to burritos in Park Slope.


A. Gourmet

33 thoughts on “How We Almost Ate At Ye Waverly Inn”

  1. wow, how poorly handled and managed? it’s amazing that some restaurants, or sorry, private clubs, don’t realize that they lose a great deal more for something like that than gain. personally, i would never have a great dining experience in a place that treated me/my parents so rudely and flat out lied. as maybe if that’s acceptable at average places, the level of service at the “it” places should be managed appropriately. unfortunately, i’ve heard a tale or two already about “ye waverly inn” and it’s similar to yours… for my money, the graciousness of blue hill beats that crap any day of the week – AND the food’s top notch!

  2. Don’t worry, once the hype dies down in a few years, and all the “fabulous” people move on, the people that pay for their food will all have been turned off by this place in a similar fashion as you and your family, and it will whimper to a close. Then we will all really be saying “what Waverly Inn?”

  3. Hasn’t that restaurant been around forever? Why the sudden buzz and interest. I am sure that Blue Hill was a much better choice on all levels.

  4. Why ever give your business to such a bastion of snobbery when there are so many other great places in NYC?

  5. charlotte devree

    Adam … soon your picture and name will be posted at the reservation desk of EVERY upscale eaterie in town, and you’ll NEVER get in anywhere, even WITH your parents, the unwitting partners in your scheme to electronically embarrass every retauranteur in Manhattan. (And, for the record, there probably never was a “Courtney”). If you really want to learn something about how restaurants operate, get the attention of Jeffrey Chodorow (he, too, has a blog). He will set you straight (just an expression!) on this subject.

  6. As someone who doesn’t live in NYC and who doesn’t eat out much (I live exactly where there are no restaurants, trees and bears instead) I am having a hard time with mustering any sympathy at all for the fools who run these restaurants in this way.

    In some ways, the NYC restaurant world seems to be like the Matrix – a perceived and manufactured reality on the surface (varied so the monkeys don’t catch on) but the same drab mundane unremarkable gray underneath.

    I know that people are passionate about the NYC restaurant scene.. passion is good. Its important tho to not identify so personally with the latest manifestation of the restaurant-agent because it too will pass. (not saying that YOU do, just a general statement)

    I actually think the more healthy thing is to participate with the frame being – which place is on the ascent, descent, death spiral, etc. Yes, its derivative but its better than the ill advised seeking a restaurant in the hopes of finding shelter, hearth, and home.

    Ye Waverly Inn seems incomprehensible to me but maybe its because I mistake it for an actual inn? Actual restaurant? Maybe its simply one more secret society that you stumbled across. I bet that behind it’s coveted doors they serve fried baloney sandwiches and room temperature vanilla tapioca dessert with a maraschino cherry on top.

  7. Um, Charlotte, do you have a hangover or something? (lots of caps in your post)

    Adam does us all a favor by disclosing how different restaurants treat their patrons. Who wants to give their hard earned money to such a business?

    Now go take an Alka-seltzer.

  8. charlotte devree

    Cat: No hangover here. I love this blog, and read it every day. However, Adam doesn’t tell us how different restaurants treat their patrons; he tells us how these restaurants treat him, specifically. (I’ve been to Le Cirque and was able to get in without getting into Sirio’s face, or assuming that they will be “snobby”.) If I didn’t like a place or felt that I was treated poorly, I just dont go back. I appreciate the fact that Adam shares his (dining and cooking) experiences with us all, but he’s been in New York long enough to know that although you get what you PAY for, the bigger the $ on the check doesn’t necessarily mean better service.

  9. Cat – always remember – do not feed the trolls ;)

    Adam – I always find your experiences very interesting… But living on a completely different contintent I do not really care if the experience was nice or irritating. Idiot restaurants exist anywhere, but sometimes I have the feeling, that they only survive for a longer time in NY :)

    Anyway – I really like the way you write and our personal look-out on things! WAY TO GO! I do look forward to the book.



  10. A. Gourmet, I just don’t know how I would feel about random people on the internets calling out my parents and then telling me I have a scheme to embarrass. Obviously they don’t understand that blogs are made of opinions and yours just happens to be put forth in a usually humorous way (which I definitely appreciate). I like hearing your accomplishments and mishaps in the big city. And I realize it’s not the same for everyone. But to suggest that there wasn’t ever a “Courtney,” when obviously there was one, makes no sense. I do hope you enjoy being the scourge of every upscale eatery in town. It sounds kind of fun. -LW

  11. Jeez, is Mercury in retrograde?

    I don’t go to restaurants who don’t want me there. Period. The secrecy part doesn’t bother me – I love Milk & Honey – it’s the fact that I have to BE someone to eat their mac & cheez. The list of honest, hard-working, talented chefs (like Dan Barber) is too long to justify wasting a single meal.

  12. I would love to hear more about your trip to Blue Hill. I spoke with Dan Barber for five to ten minutes a couple of weeks ago. It was a real treat. I described the meal I ate at Blue Hill six months prior, and based on what I was describing, he knew exactly when I had gone to his restaurant.

    This summer, I hope to take a trip up to Blue Hill at Stone Barns.

  13. Given your remarkable(!)treatment at Y.W.I., I’d say your tone was rather placid and courteous. Given my experiences at Blue Hill, and what I’ve heard from friends about the food and service at Y.W.I. (I have zero interest in dining there myself), I’m certain you and your parents ended up having a much more enjoyable dining experience. So it all worked out for the best, I’m sure!

  14. The pen is mightier than the sword – I’m glad you’ve used your strength judiciously to paint us a healthy picture of a good eating experience as well as how to tango with the big boys – and by the way – to your loyal readership – you are one of the biggies – props to A. Gourmet!! There is another side lesson to this though – when you open your fabulous eatery – how Messrs. Adam and Craig will not be treating the hoi polloi! ;0

  15. I was seriously considering buying the Waverly Inn for an undisclosed sum. However, after reading your post, I have decided to strike it from my “to do” list immediately.

  16. I’ve tried … i really really did … but I can’t think of any way that this article could get Adam banned out of any restaurant as Cat wrongly implies. Most restaurateur’s that I know would find any bad press about a competitor amusing and would give Adam, bf, and this parents a free meal. I’ve had similar experiences and I will not only not go there again, I openly disparage the restaurant and their owners.

    (its also amazing how many free meals one can get after writing a letter to the restaurant – it beats having to date the chef or the waiters)

  17. Actually Phoebe, the planets are all aligned this week (I kid you not…)

    As usual, great post AG! And I do read your blogs everyday and will use your guidance on where to eat when I someday do visit NY.

  18. Is this a reincarnation of the old Waverly Inn that was down in the Village? That was such a lovely place, with reasonable prices, good food, and a great fireplace. Very cozy. I hope it is not the same one; the old one doesn’t deserve its name being run the mud with this operation.

  19. i had forgotten about this place until reading this. i crossed this place off my to-dine list during the Great Truffle Indent of 2006.

  20. Adam, not really on topic (sort of because he mentions this topic) but Michael Ruhlman just posted a nice preview of your book on his blog.

  21. This post is why I love the reading this blog. Thank you, AG. BTW: the eggs and asparagus looks great.

  22. I’m into the planets too. I read hands and am grateful for the information I just received.

    I guess The Waverly Inn fucked with the wrong person this time. Their number was up.

    Good job. You really kicked their ass and so did your fans.

  23. Waverly Inn is for people who care more about looking at (or pretending to be) celebrities (bo-ring – the excitement of celeb-spotting is when it happens at random and you get that thrill of living in the biggest small city on the planet without having the run-in be with a tragic ex-lover) than about food. You’re too good for them anyway, Adam.

  24. this blog is painful to read. it’s written by a New York nobody that so desperately wishes he were a somebody but pretends he doesn’t mind being a nobody. most of the time he’s pretty successful at hiding his true social ambitions, except when his parents are involved. and then he gets whiney. and all his loyal readers and supporters are pretty much cut from the same cloth. face it, New York is made up of a multitude of demographics and subcultures and mini-communities. the fact that you choose to waste space on these pages ranting against Waverly Inn — and saying nothing that hasn’t been said 1,000 times before — is the clearest sign that you so desperately wish you were important enough to be rewarded with a table. Waverly Inn is BS, which is why i’ve never considered going and wouldn’t do so even if a hotel concierge promised he could get me a table. your actions betray your who-cares-screw-you-Graydon attitude.

  25. If it’s any consolation, the chef of the Waverly was on Martha Stewart this morning and together they made a chicken pot pie, which looked really unremarkable. There where no interesting herbs or vegetables in it. In fact his secret ingredient was plain old Tabasco sauce. He explained that other really popular dishes on the menu are “comfort food classics” like mac and cheese with truffles. How obvious and boring is that? It doesn’t sound like you missed very much.

  26. In the twenty years that I’ve lived in NYC, I’ve dined at YWI around one-hundered times. 98% of my dining experiances were quite good-to-wonderful. I’ve taken friends and family there for Thanksgiving, Christmas, sitting in the cozy booths, and the round table in the corner close to the fire place. I was really troubled to discover that the new owner(s) have turned it into a private restsaurant, full of all his cocaine laden super-model (and ugly) friends who will blow the place in two years or less. They’ll all get tired of the ‘it’ place and ‘it’ will be somewhere else, leaving a trail of crack viles and ostrich feathers laying arond, like some abandoned lot in the South Bronx.

    The restuarant has passed through several ownerships, and the recipe for the Chicken Pot Pie as well. The story goes that the Chicken Pot Pie has been on the menu since the restaurant started all those years ago. I too saw the Martha Stewart Segment and, being a cook myself, this was NOT the receipe for that lovely dish used at the restaurant in the past. You’re right, in that what they produced on M.S. wasn’t interesting at all, bland in fact.

  27. A touch of nostalgia.

    Hi, we had according to your blogs a very unusual experience with the Waverly last July 2007. The background to this is my first night in New York in 1979 I was taken across the road to my friends local diner the Waverly. During our honeymoon in 1982 we revisited it. Fine.

    In July this year we were in New York to celebrate our 25th Wedding Anniversary with our son and his girlfriend, as we were staying close by thought we would call by on speck to eat there. Completely unaware, we walked in about 8.30 on a Thursday asked if they had a table and were immediately shown to a lovely table in a full restaurant. We did not mention either the restaurants importance to us or approach the maitre’d with any pleading! We had a lovely meal and good service reasonably priced. It was only on our meeting up with friends we were surprised by their absolute astonishment that we had eaten there. As they had been trying to go there for months even though it was yards from their home. My only regret is I would have thought to celebrity spot if only I had known!

    P.S. Perhaps it was our British accent that opened the door for us.

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