Jeff Deisel was working as a bartender at nightclubs and then at Lower East Side Pan-Latino restaurant Suba before the owners of the latter invited him to be part of the opening team at their new joint Boqueria. He brought with him Suba’s (in)famous beer sangria but found that working at a straight-up tapas bar had a flavor all its own. We asked the bartender and server how local diners, including Ed Koch, are responding to the no-reservations rule, befuddling portions, and that elusive suckling pig.
How did the reviews affect business when you first opened?
After the Times review, there were a hundred people waiting for a table at 8 p.m., and Mayor Koch pushed through and said, “Koch for three!”
Have you made exceptions to the no-reservations policy for people like him?
I once answered the phone and this voice was asking stupid questions like, “What kind of food do you have? Is it good food? Do you take reservations?” I said “No,” and he said, “Not even for Howard Stern?” I said, “No. Not even for Howard Stern.” In the background I could hear, “Not even for you, Howard!”
When’s a good time to walk in?
During the week, it’s full by 7:30 p.m. If you show up at 7:45, you’re going to wait for 45 minutes.
You have an array of portion sizes. How do you explain them to diners?
The idea is you have some croquetas and ham and two glasses of sherry or wine and then you’re off to the next place. But in New York, there is no next place; you wait an hour, sit down, have a bottle of wine, and have a regular dinner. That’s what makes the wait.
What’s up with the beer sangria? Does it appall traditionalists?
It’s beer, lemon juice, triple sec, and a little bit of 7-Up. It’s like a shandy but a little sweeter. Sangria doesn’t have a real tradition as far as a recipe this whole thing of sangria having to be Spanish brandy and a nasty red wine, that’s not a Spanish thing.
Your suckling pig is in short supply. When can people be sure to score it?
The more likely chance is on the weekends simply because [chef Seamus Mullen] will be trying harder to make sure he has it. We have it 75 percent of the time.
I saw a review that mentioned you have jamón ibérico. Is that still available?
It’s not in the country at all right now. The farmer who has been making ham in the mountains for the past five generations doesn’t have hairnets and rubber gloves like the FDA would want him to.
Do people ever write anything funny on your comment cards?
There was one talking about how “we love your restaurant and we want to tell all of our friends, but we can’t because there was foie gras.” She got all of her friends to co-sign that it was inhumane. It was on display in the kitchen the next day.
Tapas bars get a lot of groups of girlfriends for some reason.
That’s the one group that takes the whole idea seriously. They get it. They come in and want to have some snacks and a pitcher of sangria. They’re not looking to have a four-course dinner. Daniel Maurer