During the course of a recent breakneck tour of restaurants in London, the Gobbler found himself paying Kobe-beef-like prices for taxi rides and eating, among other things, more pig’s head than he ever thought humanly possible. Unlike in New York, the maître d’s of London weren’t lying in wait for the Gobbler, and photos of his giant mug weren’t plastered in every kitchen. So he also found himself dining in that vast restaurant wasteland known as Siberia. He was seated by the great yawning kitchen doors at a hot new restaurant in Piccadilly, among tourists from Singapore at Gordon Ramsay’s newest place, and next to a giant flower pot at the Connaught Hotel. The experience prompted the Gobbler to compose another one of his lists. You know you’re sitting in Siberia when …
You don’t recognize any of the people at the next table. “I went to Elaine’s once,” a friend writes. “They sat me next to a guy with hair plugs and two women who were clearly hookers. I said to my wife: ‘Honey, I think we’re in Siberia.’”
You are sequestered in a secondary room. The term “Siberia” was coined to describe the upstairs dining room at Warner LeRoy’s Russian Tea Room. As in LeRoy’s day, any anteroom, lounge area, or brand-new second dining room is automatically Siberia.
You are made to wait for your table. Celebrities, regulars, and poseur restaurant critics rarely have to wait for their tables. If you cool your heels at the bar for more than 30 minutes, you are waiting to be sent to Siberia.
You are obscured by shrubbery. At Graydon Carter’s new restaurant, the Waverly Inn, nonentities and hangers-on are exiled to the “Garden Room,” a limbolike space away from Graydon’s gaze, filled, ominously, with potted palms.
The front of the house is very far away. Restaurateurs like to show off important guests. As a general rule, the further you are from a restaurant’s entrance, the closer you are to Siberia.
You don’t know the terrain. Different restaurants have different ideas of where their best tables are. At Le Bernardin, for instance, fat cats are put up front, but also in the middle of the room, along the walls. If you aren’t aware of this, you’re probably a resident of Siberia.
The kitchen is very close by. Unless, of course, you happen to be in the kitchen itself, which in this era of rarefied casualness and hyperexpensive “chef’s tables” is considered choice dining real estate.
The ladies’ lounge is very close by. As with standing-room tickets to the opera, connoisseurs of Siberia notice subtle gradations when it comes to this famously undesirable location. “You’re in trouble,” a friend says, “when you can smell what kind of disinfectant they use on the toilets.”