Ask a Waiter

Jenn James of the Rusty Knot Never Wants to Hear ‘Hotel California’ Again

“We do something called a ‘pickle back’ — a shot of Jameson with a shot of pickle-juice brine.”

Jenn James was a full-time student and part-time rooftop gardener before she decided to return to waitressing. She called up her old boss at the Spotted Pig, Ken Friedman, and his brother, Doug, invited her to help open the bar he manages, the Rusty Knot. She knew it would be fun when on the first night everyone ate and drank so much that the bar had to close down for a few days to restock. Jenn pled the Fifth when we asked her about celebrities (“We’ve seen a few” is all she’d say), but, luckily, she had plenty more to talk about.

There aren’t a lot of seats at the Knot. Do you try to turn them over?
We don’t really try to move the couches and the stools very much. But with the booths, if people want to sit down and eat, we like to nicely ask [people who are already there] if they’re done eating and if they wouldn’t mind relocating.

Does the place get packed?
We’ve had a couple nights where there have been 30-minute waits at the door. We have a one-in, one-out policy to maintain capacity.

So when should we avoid the bar, if we don’t want to be left standing by the West Side Highway?
Thursday through Saturday night, from 10 p.m. on. Things slow down around 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. People have usually had their fill.

What songs are you sick of hearing on the jukebox?
If I hear the Eagles’ “Hotel California” one more time… And Journey. I used to love the Eagles, but I must say I don’t think it’ll be something I’ll play very often after working at the Rusty Knot… I’d say we hear “Hotel California,” conservatively, five times a night, every night.

The peel-and-eat shrimp is no longer on the menu — did people get messy with them?
I have found many shrimp shells on the floor, as well as plastic mermaids and corn nuts. People would get really messy with our Coca-Cola ribs, but those are no longer on the menu as well.

Has anything been added to the menu recently?
A shrimp cocktail with a house-made roasted-tomato cocktail sauce with fresh shredded horseradish. And the crawfish is now out of season, so we just have the andouille-chicken-and-rice bowl.

What about the cocktail menu?
We recently added a tropical wine cooler, with white wine and passion fruit and papaya juice, a little sour and a little Sprite.

Do people get wasted off of those Scorpion bowls?
I will say I sometimes think our alcohol is more potent than other bars’. A couple of our house drinks do have a lot of alcohol in them and can give you a little kick. We see our share of intoxicated customers, but it’s all in good fun — we try to make sure it doesn’t go too far.

What sort of things do happen?
We definitely had problems with the menu boards being changed to say fun and creative things. When we had the peel-and-eat shrimp, it got rearranged to “peel & eat me.”

Are there off-the-menu drinks?
We do something called a “pickle back” — a shot of Jameson with a shot of pickle-juice brine — that is quickly becoming a signature. Quino [chef Joaquin Baca] does a pickled cucumber, so we have amazing pickle juice. We share that shot with another bar called Whiskey Town.

What about food?
If you order our lettuce wedge from the menu, it’s served with a buttermilk bacon dressing, but if someone prefers it without meat, we can do a roasted-tomato vinaigrette.

You’re now open from noon, daily. Do people stop in when they’re jogging along the river?
We did have someone on Rollerblades who rolled through the restaurant to one of the booths, which prompted us to wonder whether we should have a sign — “No Rollerblades.” The joggers prefer to jog on past and stay on their healthy path.

Jenn James of the Rusty Knot Never Wants to Hear ‘Hotel California’