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 hard-to-get tables.
John Evans, the dapper, 40-something-year-old nightlife veteran (The One Group, Heathrow Lounge) is tasked with seating diners at Haven, the 60-seat molecular-mod food lounge helmed by chef Todd Erickson. With approval stamps by celebrity chef Ingrid Hoffmann and foodies alike, it’s no easy task deciding who gets in and who doesn’t.
It's 8 p.m. on a Saturday night. What's the wait for a table?
We always do our best to take care of each guest that comes to Haven. Because we serve globally-inspired small plates, table turn times are shorter and we can make things happen fairly quickly. We may not be able to accommodate guests immediately, but relax, we are on your team...and we want your money.
What about earlier in the night?
We begin happy hour and early dinner service at 6:00 pm. It is a definitely easier to score prime seating at that time, especially if you are looking to sit at the intimate Chef’s Counter. We do have many seating options though, from lounge to bar to patio, we can always make arrangements for an amazing experience. If you want to have dinner at 11:30 on Saturday night, however, you are going to have to sweet talk moi.
Is there anything I can do to make my wait shorter?
It is no secret that doormen have the greasy palms in town, but it is not always about paying someone off to avoid a line or get a table. As a maître d’, I have always held true to one credo...“What do you bring to the party?” I don't care if you are rich or poor, fat or thin, as long as you are rich and thin (ha ha). On a serious note, I believe that your attitude and demeanor outside determines your attitude and demeanor inside?and I will never allow anyone to disrespect my staff, my establishment or the hard work of the owners and management. It is really not that difficult to get what you want, if you are polite. Come to the door with an inkling of “Do you know who I am?” and be prepared for what lay ahead. Trust me?I know who you are?“You’re THAT guy.” I always say there are two people you never mess with:
a. a doorman
b. a man in a dress
God forbid that should be the same person, right Alan T?
How about gifts or cash to speed things along?
Money can’t buy you class and it can’t buy your way into Haven. I have turned down plenty of cash from people who were not the right fit. It is a balancing act to create a mix of people who bring something new, fresh and exciting to your venue. Always come with positive energy. Always tell me how cute I look. Always wear something tight and low cut. As for the ladies...
How many seats are in the restaurant?
We have 12 lounge tables inside that seat 50 guests, a Chef’s Counter that seats four, an amazing onyx bar that seats 16, and an outdoor patio that seats 20. We can accommodate an intimate dinner for two, a party for 50 or a total buy-out that allows Haven to become your own private enclave. Because we are a HI-FI Video Lounge, we can create any dining or nightlife experience, from the Miami skyline, to a rain forest, the Swiss Alps, or your own personalized graphics customized for your event.
Tell us about your favorite customers.
Bottom line, shiny, happy people are my favorite customers. I am not a fan of people who feel entitled because they are wealthy or beautiful...this is South Beach?everybody is rich and pretty! We have a guest, Milo, an 90-year-old man who has more style, swagger and beautiful ladies on his arm than any 21-year-old in Miami. I want to be just like him when I grow up.
Do you get a lot of celebrities---real celebrities, not reality stars or celebs in their own minds?
We’ve been open less than two months and we’ve already made fans out of Jeffrey Donovan and Ingrid Hoffmann. Mike Boles, the visionary behind Haven, is also the brainchild behind a number of other hospitality ventures in Atlanta, including Compound and Luckie Food Lounge. Both venues are touted as celebrity hot spots and we’re hoping some of that magic rubs off here. Andy Cohen, we’re waiting?
How do you deal with VIPs when there are no tables left to give?
Honesty is the best policy! It’s amazing how forgiving people are when you are up-front and honest. A few simple steps:
1. Escort them inside and get them started at the bar (alcohol is a wonderful lubricant).
2. Introduce the guests to management so that they are aware of the situation.
3. Always keep them informed of the status of their table and never avoid the situation.
4. If all else fails, Patron, Patron, Patron?
What's the most outrageous request from a customer that you've accommodated?
Off the record, it involved a midget, a donkey and Briana...in that order (Google “two girls and a martini glass”).
Any requests you couldn't accommodate?
Having been a part of the scene for many years, you build a rolodex of doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs (i.e. Heidi Fleiss). Everything is a text away and it is an amazing thing to turn someone’s evening, into an event, into an experience. They come for dinner and drinks and the next minute they are skinny dipping at The Versace Mansion (thank you camera phone), for example. This business is all about building relationships with the guests and others in our industry that want to provide excellent customer service. People want to give you what you want; you just have to ask nicely.
What's your favorite seat in the house?
The Chef’s Counter with Todd Erickson. It takes the dining experience to another level. If you’re lucky enough to snag a seat there, you’ll be treated to a behind-the-scenes look at the art of food. Chef Todd is so engaging and takes time from the frantic pace of the kitchen to explain his menu, the preparation and his thought process. How many Chefs will actually serve you? He is a young, talented rising star in the culinary industry and one to keep an eye on.
Any secret off the menu items people can order?
Deviled Eggs, voted the Best by D Magazine in 2003. Chef Todd is modest but if you talk to him long enough you may just get the recipe back story out of him. The menu is so diverse and exciting you will certainly find something to enjoy, but of course, Chef and the bartenders will make you anything you want! My favorite is the Dallas skewer with prime beef, grilled cipollini, local tomato, blue cheese and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar?ba-nanas!
When you're not at Haven, where are you eating?
Breakfast: Angelina’s. Crepes, waffles, omelets, yogurt and organic coffee. It is in my building, so I roll out of bed, bring my dog, and start my day.
Lunch: Le Sandwicherie The best meats and produce on perfectly crusty French bread.
Dinner: Sustain Always have to support the local boys that are doing what’s good for the community, environment and your individual health. Local, organic and truly genuine!
Late Night: Gigi’s. The Beef Chow Fun is perfect. The open kitchen, music and the crowd is always on point.
Anytime: Houston’s. I cut my teeth in the industry working for a true hospitality master. To this day I thank George Biel for teaching me that is an honor to be in this industry.
What's your most important gatekeeper tool?
Nerves and balls of steel! I have had every rude comment, slur, insult, and Christian Louboutin hurled at me while standing at the door.