Chris Stein was a server at La Esquina before he started work at the equally atmospheric — if much smaller — Smith and Mills, where he’s the only man on the floor. Does he miss working at a larger spot? “Other jobs there have been managers saying the same shit to you over and over, and trying to get you to sell certain things,” he says. “Here, there aren’t any of the gross vibes. A lot of the times the owner is having a drink also, or we’re all having a drink.” Sadly we weren’t having a drink when we chatted with Stein, but that didn’t make our conversation any less spirited.
Do you ever get claustrophobic in such a small space?
If I get frustrated, I’ll just walk out and hang outside for a minute. In New York, waiting tables is constantly an awkward thing. I’ve never worked anywhere where I was like, “Wow, this is comfortable!”
When’s the best time to show up and snag one of those coveted tables?
It fills up and empties like clockwork, over and over. Around 7 p.m. is the first time it empties. People come for drinks from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and then it dies down. From that point on, it’s hard to say.
Can you sit for a drink or is it dinner only?
You can just have drinks. I’d never ask someone to get up and stand if they’re sitting down.
Are there people who don’t understand the spirit of the place and don’t realize it’s supposed to be relaxed?
You mean douche bags? Luckily they feel uncomfortable in our place. Sometimes they walk in and don’t even get a drink and leave — they know right away that they can’t be their disgusting selves in our place. We really appreciate that.
What’s another pet peeve?
If you’re getting the whole table drinks and one person’s drink is almost empty but they say they don’t need another one. Then when you come back with everyone’s drinks, they order another one.
Do people bitch about the cash-only policy when that bill for a few hundred dollars hits the table?
A credit-card machine is not something we’re interested in. It’s what’s nice about the place — it’s small, cozy, and quiet. We don’t want to fill it with computers and printers. The whole credit-card thing is kind of gross.
Do you have to do other things when you’re serving to fit the vibe of the place?
We’re getting uniforms this week that will be a bit militaristic. It sounds cool. I haven’t seen it yet, but I trust the taste of the owner, if it’s going to follow suit with the place.
We gave your bathrooms five stars. Does the party ever spill into it?
Late at night when people are wasted, girls end up piling in there. For some reason, nobody can figure out the door. They get in, and they can’t figure out how to get back out.