This is The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
[Photo: Molly DeCoudreaux]
The 37 seats at The Alembic in the Upper Haight are among the most sought after spots for fantastic cocktails in all of San Francisco. Add in the kitchen's buzz-generating bone marrow, duck heart skewers and addictive sliders, and you've got a great recipe for killer waits. On most nights, Angel Davis is the woman "manning" the door. Bar manager Daniel Hyatt hired her a few months ago, fresh off the road from Portland. Somehow Davis has more than enough energy to deal with the Haight-Ashbury craziness between bouts of studying to get her sommelier diploma.
7:30 p.m. on a Saturday night, what's the wait for a table? It's so random... usually by 7:30 we're at a 45 minute to an hour wait, it just depends on how the room fills up.
Any thing I can do to speed up the process? The smaller the group, the better off you are. We only have ten tables, so on busy nights, parties of two are obviously the easiest to accomodate. Anything over four gets a little tricky. I don't think people realize how small our space really is. Every weekend I get groups of seven or more trying to come in to eat and there's no way we can realistically accomodate them.
As one of the coolest restaurant/bars in the Upper Haight, you've surely been offered gifts or cash in exchange for reservations or a table. What have people tried? If they do try its always been cash. Doesn't work though. We won't take it. It's not like I don't want to get you a table as soon as possible, I just can't, they're all full.
Tell us about your favorite customers. My favorites are our regulars. They're the sweetest and on super busy night it's always nice to see a familiar smiling face.
How do you deal with VIPs when there are no tables or seats to give? People I would consider a "VIP" that have come while I've worked here are some of the most patient and understanding people ever. They're usually happy to grab a drink at the bar and catch up with the bartenders while waiting for their table or a seat at the bar.
What's the most outrageous request from a customer you've ever had to accomodate? Being on Haight it can get a little crazy. I've never experienced a customer requesting something outrageous. I have had someone wander in from outside of our bar and ask for a fork so he could stab someone in the eye.
Where are you eating and drinking when you're not at Alembic? Right now I feel like I am chained to my desk at home studying if I'm not at work. So I don't really get out much. When I do, I just end up going for long walks with friends and wandering in out of different little hole in wall places in the city. Other than coffee shops like Ritual and Four Barrel, I have yet to go to the same place twice to eat dinner or get a drink.
Were there any press mentions that led to significant bump in service, or a change to the type of clientele you were seeing? There's always something. People tend to come in with very specific things in mind. Overall the clientele is a consistant, never-ending assortment of people from all over San Francisco, and the world.
At the end of the day, what's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to get the job done? Coffee and my co-workers.
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