Saturday night I tried to elbow my way into Neighborhood Services, the new Nick Badovinus destination.
Tried is the key word--staff members promised a wait of up to three hours for a table and well-heeled types already mobbed the bar area, obviously willing to watch the evening slip away in a sea of designer threads, bumping shoulders and sloshed cocktails. At nearby Fireside Pies, the prospect of a more manageable 60 minute delay seemed more palatable.
There are several things I could rant about here--the nefarious nature of no reservation restaurants, the vicissitudes of location, or even the waning quality of Fireside's pizza (they turned out two pies barely worthy of Domino's on this occasion, their salad included scrap lettuce and we spent the next day regretting the entire experience). Instead it seems appropriate to ponder a certain, well-worn axiom.
If you believe the stories passed down by our elders, time once equaled money--at least for those not stuck on the assembly line. In other words, each hour you spent engaged in some activity meant a net gain or loss.
Yeah, it's a dreary way to look at life.
In theory, the 'time is money' equation should carry more weight today. To wit: convert life into billable hours. At a Park Cities-ish $150 an hour, guests at Neighborhood Services were already down $450 before they reached a table. At Fireside Pies, seating set us back $150...well, set me back about $10, if we want to be realistic about this billable hours thing. Or to put it another way, the pizza better be worth a large chunk of change if you're forced to wait that long for a table.
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But a couple generations keen to queue up for, say, a midnight release of the latest Harry Potter perhaps values participation in the big event more than their own time--and, more importantly, defines "big event" very loosely, so as to include new restaurants and old pizza joints. In the process, they've altered the worth of some items in the old 'service-atmosphere-food' line up.
When Manny's Uptown opened several years ago, people happily waited an hour or two for what was, at the time, essentially mediocre Tex-Mex. The Fireside Pies at Inwood and Lovers seems, as I said, to be slipping into that territory--judging somewhat unfairly on one visit. Add to this the uncomfortable nature of pushing through a crowd, the mass of bodies trapping you in place. Then note the people jostling next to diners at one place or the extra chairs added in impromptu fashion, barely allowing five to fit around a four-top at another restaurant...
Service is still an important consideration and food still ranks last, trumped even by location. Atmosphere, however, has been redefined, with the crush of 'New York City rush hour' and the fun of 'waiting in line for a driver's license' combining into one big plus.
Diners follow the clubbing logic: scene is the thing.