Nathan Frye, our first Ask a Waiter, sat out Balthazars tenth-anniversary last night, but it was a grand ole time much Champagne was spilled and a total stranger tried to crawl onto our table. Of course, Balthazar wasnt the first of Keith McNallys restaurants to turn ten last year Pravda had an equally boisterous birthday celebration. To be fair we thought wed get the straight propaganda from Rania Haditirto, bass player for the rock band the Kelly Affair, who has been a server at the vodka den for half of its life span.
Do partiers really order Russian specialties like beef stroganoff and borscht?
Not too many. People are shy about eating because theyre with groups or friends; you dont want to be the only one eating chicken Kiev.
Did the ban on Beluga caviar affect business?
There was a big record producer whod show up in a Hummer limo with a different girl every night. His tab would be $1,000 in two minutes. He stopped coming.
What do actual Russians make of the place?
Sometimes you get Russians that are like, Why are you dressed like that? Because you think Russians dress like that? I say, No, this is just a Russian-themed place. This isnt Brighton Beach. I do get people who start speaking to me in Russian and are disappointed Im not Russian.
How well do you know the dozens of vodkas on the menu? Any favorites?
The bartenders have loved Stoli Gold forever. Then theres Zubrowka its infused with bison grass. Id recommend it with apple juice. We all love Cristiana, its very smooth, and Reyka from Iceland. We have a premium vodka called Jewel of Russia Ultra for $16 a shot. Thats several times distilled and very smooth.
If someone asks for more booze in a cocktail, or to tweak it somehow, will you take it back to the bar?
If you can tell that theyre going to give you a hard time, Ill just do it. But if you feel like theyre open to it, if they say I want it with vodka instead of gin, Ill say, Hendrick made it the way he made it and hes proud of it. It was made with gin for a reason.
Is there a drink that makes you cringe?
We dont make Long Island iced teas or anything like them. We dont want this to be the kind of place where you go to get drunk and thats your only goal.
Do people ever feel obligated to drink like a Russian and go too far?
We have a vodka bottle thats eight ounces. After three, youre on a roll. If we can tell people have gone too far, we can tell the manager, Lets cut them off. Ana will also let us buy them French fries on the house [to sober them up].
Do drunk folk ever leave anything behind?
People call the next day saying, Oh, I left a pair of pants there. People have left purses and coats in the middle of winter. Weve found bras, panties on the floor, under the table
What are the tables where people invariably end up canoodling?
My friends are always like, Can we sit at table 69?, because its kind of in the back. Table 60 is around the corner, hidden behind the stairs if you walk in, you cant see whos sitting there.
Have you seen anything scandalous?
I walk by men fondling women, and Im like, I know where your hand is. The other day our manager was like, Look at Table 72, hes breast-feeding. And he was!