Friends In Service

9PM Is The Best Time To Arrive — And More From A Friend At Fanelli

The Mercer-and-Prince spot has been around since 1874, and you bet there are secrets in there.

By Eloise King-Clements

Photo by Ferdinando Scianna

Published

Friends In Service is a monthly column that features friends who work at restaurants. From the manager at Le Dive to the server you always see at Lovely Day, to the girl behind the bar at The River, every friend is someone to know (and has stories worth knowing).




A lot can be said of sceney downtown restaurants—the waitlists snaking into the sunset, the glitzy outfits donned by taste-making svengalis sizing each other up, the prices that leave you feeling used and abused—still, they’re lovable. To be a waitress is to know too much. You are pegged as an ally, the pert liaison between hunger and fullness, and often, a confidant. On a Monday eve, after an arugula salad and no wine, in an even keel, a poet I had admired for years confessed to me her husband was a cunt and she was finally filing for divorce.


It was summer, the restaurant was popular and we worked with an ensemble of girls. A customer once told me that we were like a shitty band. A part-time regular who tipped well, he struck me as someone who might spend a Monday making artisan chocolate out of his apartment above Berlin—not the city but the place where the bartender warns you that the frozen margaritas are extra strong (read: just one will have you in that apartment, eating those artisan chocolates). He had a point. We’d close early in the morning, pull the grate down, and drink on the sidewalk with our lackluster groupies: the lingering customers who didn’t get the memo when we played “Closing Time” over the speakers. She, like many waitresses I know, possess a cool charisma and a blinding pull towards a career in the arts. Often they moonlight as servers, but many of them are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

“To be a waitress is to know too much. You are pegged as an ally, the pert liaison between hunger and fullness, and often, a confidant.”

When I met Caro I thought she was my boss. I had heard of her—the proverb was always “ask Caro”. I knew a few things to be true: she always arrived fifteen minutes early to every shift, she knew every liquor in the storage room at all times, and she could take double the amount of tables than anyone else. In the beginning when I was meek and scared all the time, waffling under the impression she might fire me at any moment, she leaned over the bar and said, “If a customer asks to speak to the manager, just tell them you’re the manager.”


She somehow occupied the space of jadedness and child-like delight. We held hands taking orders, scurried to the kitchen to annoy the chefs, and took bribes from customers—as I write this, I’m wearing the Chanel perfume sent to me in exchange for a window table (Thanks Maria!) Our lives disappeared on dirtied plates and at the end of a Saturday night all we knew was our net tips and how many hours we had until we had to clock in again.


She’s now working at Fanelli Cafe, an always-packed restaurant and is a studio assistant working on a large-scale glass sculpture.

On a hot Tuesday, we met at Le Dive, where she knows the bartender. We meander to Cafe Katja, an Austrian bar with great pretzels, to play cards and lay out the contents of our purses on the table. The waiter, Parker, judges her purse to be better than mine due to a stuffed sloth she carries around. We finished with a plate of chicken fingers at Fanelli. We talked about waitressing, her favorite spots in the city, and our own buddy system.


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FANELLI CAFE PAINTING BY TED PAPOULAS


What’s your perfect Fanellis order?

I’d start off with 2 stella’s before I'd be ready to order. I’d ask for just meatballs and ricotta, because it settles my stomach. Then chicken tenders, barbeque sauce, honey mustard, no fries. And I'd close with a house salad.


Who’s your favorite customer?

It would have to be this guy Jay, Jay Kelly, he’s really sweet. He’s an older artist fella but everytime you see him he will check in and he’s just so wholesome.


Where do you go when you need a break?

Into the white wine cooler. I sit there and cry while counting limes. I always wear my cargo pants so between the crying I’d say 15 limes fit in my right pocket and 13 lemons fit in my left.


Let's say you have a table you don’t like—what one thing would change your mind about them?

Doing something that’s emblematic of who they are, and not what I pigeon holed them as.


OK, vice versa. You love a table and right befo--

--they want to split it 17 ways!


What's the best time to come?

9:00pm. No one’s drunk enough to be disgusting and you’ll probably have a good night. 6:00 is the worst time to show up. Things get messy around 10:30.

“9:00pm. No one’s drunk enough to be disgusting and you’ll probably have a good night. 6:00 is the worst time to show up. Things get messy around 10:30.”

Where are you after work?

Milano’s or Clandestino. But usually home.


Favorite bar and restaurant outside of Fanelli?

Sweetwater, I get the crabcakes every time. And then the Turkey Nest Tavern right next to McCarren Park.


What’s in for you?

Women using hand tools. You should never pay 250 for a man to install a shelf for you. Bare minimum, you should have a drill, measuring tape, and a level. Oh, and knee high socks. I don't care what color they have to touch your knees.


You grew up in Queens. Tell me your favorite local spots?


James Veloria because I can leave with a classic piece that will age well in my closet and I will not regret financially (like cashmere cardigans and items in that realm).


Soho Art Materials - Paint, medium (turpentine only, the smell of anything else makes my skin crawl), raw canvas (unstretched).


Leisure Center


The Bathhouse on Fulton


Michaeli Bakery - Double shot americano iced (black or dairy milk if I'm feeling frisky) and a potato bureka for savory, or rugelah for sweet.


The smoke shop next to the gramercy theater - sell cigarettes for $10


Bagels Plus in Sunnyside has the best bagel in New York


Remix Market off Court Square - best used books and small furniture. Fridays they put a bunch of furniture on the sidewalk all day for free.

“The excitement of knowing you’re going to spend 10 hours working with a pal on a Friday can sometimes be the best part of your week.”

Where do you want your ashes scattered?

Off the 59th St bridge. It’s the bridge into Queens, and all my predominant memories with my family are getting off that bridge. I love that bridge.


Pieces of art that have heavily influenced you?

Grace Hartigan, specifically this piece and the way that she speaks about it in the MoMA recording kind of changed my life.


James Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces because his writing is so powerfully reflective of being in untethered, directionless points of your life.


If you’re in a shitty band, what instrument are you playing?

Synth or cowbell. The sound of a cowbell can really echo through a hollow body. But as an instrument, a synth is so modest. It can do so much under the guise of being a tiny keyboard with a few manipulation knobs.


Tell me about buddy systems as a server?

The practice of finding a friend or buddy in the service industry is rooted in fate. If your shifts overlap your relationship will move 5x faster than meeting someone in the wild. The excitement of knowing you’re going to spend 10 hours working with a pal on a Friday can sometimes be the best part of your week.


The waitress came over, blowing Caro a kiss, and murmured that they were closing.


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