ask a waiter

Dagny Mendelsohn of Employees Only Defends Her Customers From Flying Fruit

"I always have relationship drama. [The psychics] have given
me some clarity."Photo: Melissa Hom

Dagny Mendelsohn has been a manager and maître d’ at Employees Only since the restaurant and cocktail spot’s buzzy opening two years ago. Before that she worked at Pastis and Schiller’s. Though she says her old boss, Keith McNally, has never come in, she has had the pleasure of hosting Daniel Boulud (“He went down to use the bathroom in the kitchen and ended up talking to the chef for an hour”) as well as connecting lotharios who were stood up by dates — one such couple came back to the restaurant to celebrate their first anniversary. We asked Dagny how she controls traffic at the hidden hot spot.

Part-owners Jason Kosmas and Dushan Zaric recently wrote a women’s guide to meeting men in bars. Do women use their advice on them?
For the most part, all of our bartenders are married or living with their girlfriends. The barbacks, on the other hand, have their fun. They’re like little celebrities.

What are some favorite cocktails that might not be on the menu?
They actually use egg white in a lot of cocktails. They use absinthe in a couple, like the Millionaire. They prepare it the traditional way.

People perceive the place as a sedate hideaway.
One night one of our regulars called in. He says he’s in Little Italy and there’s a twenty-person brass band playing in the street at 1 a.m.; the neighbors are freaking out, the cops are showing up. He asks, “Can they play?” The band filed into the restaurant one after the other.

So crowds have found you despite the faux fortune-teller storefront?
All the restaurants and bars in the neighborhood come to us at the end of the shift, so we’re packed until 4 a.m. Weekends, we’ll sometimes have a line down the block.

When’s the best time to show up to avoid the madness?
The crunch hours are between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. or 12 a.m. We don’t take many reservations; we leave as much seatings as possible for walk-ins.

What do you do when the crowd overwhelms?
Especially Thursday, Friday, and Saturday we tell people to come back in an hour. It’s usually that way from 10 p.m. till 3 a.m. The doormen are pretty cool if your friend is already inside, or if you have a reservation, if you want to eat, or if you have a date.

Have angry neighbors ever thrown things from the window into the garden?
Lots of fruit. Maybe a couple tomatoes.

Do you take advantage of the psychic in the window?
I always have relationship drama. They’ve given me some clarity.

What do you say to people who say the place isn’t what it once was because the owners have taken on too many consulting jobs?
For the most part, it’s impossible to get a bad drink from any of the boys.

Does the co-op system trickle down to you?
Hopefully we’re planning on doing another project together where I’m more a part of ownership. So I’m sticking with these guys!

Can you tell me anything about the project?
It might not be in New York.

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