Laura Dunlop worked at a pizza-and-pasta mill before coming to Lovely Day, the diminutive Nolita standby for cheap, fanciful Thai. In the two years she’s been there, the 40-seat canteen has evolved from an under-the-radar hangout for local boutique owners and artists to a genuine destination. “It’s a little sad,” she says. “Because we don’t get to spend as much time with each table.” We asked her about the place’s bohemian following, her method of dealing with obnoxious customers, and rumors of full-frontal nudity inside the restaurant.
What do you say to people who deride Lovely Day as a “hipster” hangout?
I wouldn’t classify our customers as hipsters. They’re neighborhood people, young working professionals who are into music and art.
Who are some neighborhood regulars who’ve stayed loyal to the place over the years?
The girls from Eva, the girls from Ina. People from Unis are here all the time.
How small is the kitchen? What happens when you get backed up?
We have one guy on the wok and another guy on the oven and stove. There are nights when everyone is starving, but we try to make them understand that everything is made to order.
In such a small space, is it hard to hide from obnoxious customers?
I recently had a guy drinking at the bar. He was walking around the restaurant with a bottle of beer in one hand and a bottle of sake with three straws in the other. I told him, “You can’t go outside with that.” He was like, “It’s congressional law; they just passed it. You can give me a cork and I can go out.” I was like, “You have to go now.”
In addition to your Halloween party, which is a neighborhood tradition, you had a fun party during the blackout.
We opened up the kitchen since all the food was going to go bad and cooked it all up for everyone in the neighborhood. Someone opened up a hydrant and people were riding their bikes through it.
Is it true someone got naked?
Something like that isn’t that out of the ordinary. We’re all friends here.
Speaking of which, what about complaints that the servers are too chatty with each other on the job?
We’re trying to make a friendly environment. It’s basically a hangout. Anyone’s welcome to join in our conversation. And we don’t ignore customers.
Was it a big deal when your prices broke the $10 barrier?
No, everything is under $15. In the time I’ve worked there, nothing has gone up more than a dollar. There will never be a massive price hike.
Do you overhear any interesting dates?
There’s some guys who are nervous, and it’s awkward when you get to the table. It’s like, “Whatever you want,” “No, whatever you want.” This girl was cheating on her boyfriend, and her boyfriend pulled her out of the restaurant.
Do you get hit on yourself?
Tons of creepy guys come in and give you odd gifts, or they ask you if you know what a “paramour” means. This guy brought in newspaper clippings and a T-shirt. I didn’t look to see what the clippings were of.
Was he Dash Snow?
No, it wasn’t! Does he do something with newspaper clippings? —Daniel Maurer