Friday, April 07, 2006

Soho-Stockholm Syndrome

I'm getting to the party late, but Calvin Trillin has a piece in the New Yorker on Shopsin's, an East Village restaurant-grocery with a cantankerous, contrarian chef-owner. God damn, I miss New York, even though I'm pretty sure the chef would despise me. Especially because he'd despise me. It's a peculiar kind of Stockholm syndrome, where it's the absence of Stockholm that's the problem.
One evening, when the place was nearly full, I saw a party of four come in the door; a couple of them may have been wearing neckties, which wouldn't have been a plus in a restaurant whose waitress used to wear a T-shirt that said "Die Yuppie Scum." Kenny took a quick glance from the kitchen and said, "No, we're closed." After a brief try at appealing the decision, the party left, and the waitress pulled the security gate partway down to discourage other latecomers.

"It's only eight o'clock," I said to Kenny.

"They were nothing but strangers," he said.

"I think those are usually called customers," I said. "They come here, you give them food, they give you money. It's known as the restaurant business."

Kenny shrugged. "Fuck 'em," he said.

Maybe a better analogy is the attraction of a high-maintenance boyfriend/girlfriend: part of the reason you prize their affection is because they're such an asshole to everyone. Anyone can go to a bar and spend $15 on a mojito. But can anyone get into Milk & Honey, where you have to be personally introduced to the owner before you can be admitted? The preppies didn't get in to Shopsin's, but doesn't that exclusivity make Shopsin's less punk, not more? Unless that part of the punk continuum continues all the way to Soho House (though Soho House, like Shopsin's, is democratically outre enough to have a website)?

Anyway, Kottke.org beat me to this by posting the restaurant's insanely overcrowded menu, but the menu's no-parties-of-five rule explanation bears repeating:

Party of Five
you could put a chair at the end
or push the tables together
but dont bother
This banged-up little restaurant
where you would expect no rules at all
has a firm policy against seating
parties of five
And you know you are a party of five
It doesn't matter if one of you
offers to leave or if
you say you could split into
a party of three and a party of two
or if the five of you come back tomorrow
in Richard Nixon masks and try to pretend
that you don't know each other
It won't work: You're a party of five
even if you're a beloved regular
Even if the place is empty
Even if you bring logic to bear
Even if you're a tackle for the Chicago Bears
it won't work
You're a party of five
You will always be a party of five
Ahundred blocks from here
a hundred years from now
you will still be a party of five
and you will never savor the soup
or compare the coffee
or hear the wisdom of the cook
and the wit of the waitress or
get to hum the old -time tunes
among which you will find
no quintets

-- Robert Hershon