NEW YORK (Reuters) - Limousines line the street outside, lithe young women flirt with powerful men, macaroni and cheese costs $55 and paparazzi lurk, ready to snap a star misbehaving.
In less than a year, The Waverly Inn has earned a reputation as the most exclusive celebrity eatery in New York with an unlisted reservation number known only to a lucky few favored by co-owner Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair magazine.
Manager Emil Varda, the man to court if you long for a table within earshot of Gwyneth Paltrow, Robert De Niro or Calvin Klein, insists The Waverly Inn is just a neighborhood eatery where everybody is treated the same.
“We have a very, very simple philosophy here -- simple good food and service which is based on the one sentence ‘We treat every customer like we treat our grandparents,'” Varda said.
“We do not have a Siberia,” he added, referring to the back room that gossip columnists have noted is the domain of C-list or no-list diners lucky enough to get a table at all.
Varda said the conservatory area at the back was in fact “the nicest place to sit.” Others have noted the long walk through the main dining room allows ample time for celebrity spotting.
“As crass as it sounds, the true promise of this restaurant can best be summarized in the see-or-be-seen power stroll that everyone makes to the tiny set of bathrooms at the very back -- right on the border of Siberia,” the New York Post said.
Carter, whose Vanity Fair Oscar party is the hottest ticket in Hollywood, holds court from a red-leather banquette.
Located on a quiet tree-lined street in the West Village, The Waverly Inn is just off the route of a popular bus tour that takes in the sites filmed in the hit TV show “Sex and the City.” But Varda looks pained at the thought of tourists.
“We don’t have a lot of tourists,” he said, his smooth European accent -- he hails from Poland via Paris -- the epitome of suave. “Remember, we don’t have a phone number.”
And locals, he said, are above gawking.
“New Yorkers are kind of jaded with celebrities. New Yorkers think that they are celebrities,” Varda said. “We know there are paparazzi, but we don’t call them.”
Goings on at The Waverly Inn are a rich source of fodder for New York’s gossip columns, which gleefully reported a sighting of actress Ellen Barkin throwing a drink at estranged husband Ron Perelman and other such drama.
The gossips also jumped on reports of a health inspector finding mouse droppings and of ambulances headed for a nearby hospital delayed by limousines blocking the street.
The inn has been through several incarnations since the 1920s when it was a coffee house and a speak-easy. The decor features a mural by New Yorker magazine cartoonist Edward Sorel of artists such as Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan and Walt Whitman.
Critics have dubbed the menu comfort food but chef John DeLucie said he preferred the terms English and old New York.
Main dishes range from a burger at $14 to Dover sole at $45. But it was a special macaroni and cheese at $55 that grabbed the headlines. DeLucie notes that it was no ordinary “mac‘n‘cheese” since it featured white truffles.
“We thought white truffles are in season, so why don’t we do this very ordinary dish and make it extraordinary,” he told Reuters. “We got so much nonsense ... We were at least 10 percent cheaper on our white truffle dish than everyone else.”
As for tips on getting a table, this reporter does not know the secret number but she was seated within minutes when she walked in with a companion around 10 p.m. on a recent Tuesday.
We ate in Siberia but saw Oliver Stone. Or was it someone who looked like Oliver Stone?