Rao’s isn’t taking reservations for 2007. They’re full up. We thought that if we went for a drink, and someone canceled. You know, it could happen.
But of course it didn’t happen. We showed up way too early, around 6:30, and the guys in the kitchen were eating their dinner. The message was clear enough for even an anthropologist to detect: go away. So we did. We went to the upper east side for dinner and then came back for drinks around 9:00.
What a place, I am telling you. Tiny, crowded, noisy, New York and then some. Italian by origin but inclusive now. We fell into conversation with the owner Frank. Well, let’s be honest, we laid siege to Frank. And the guy is such a celebrity that you hold his attention only by rolling out your A material, and hoping for the best.
We were there with Joe and Christine, and that helped. They’ve been officially designated by the United Nations as the most charming couple on earth. Early in the evening, I watched Joe chat with a garage attendant. It took him 20 seconds to establish a rapport that would take me an hour and a half. He’s interested in everything. Christine sees the world unflinchingly over Pocahontas cheek bones, and this gives her the ability, apparently, to penetrate all secrets. She’s surprised by nothing.
The two of them could have handled Frank on their own, but between the four of us, it wasn’t long before he felt himself floating on a veritable Humboldt current of congratulation. You never know, several more occasions like this and we could be booking tables for the same calendar year.
The thing that’s interesting about Rao’s is that it is an experiment that tests the possibility of urban experiments. On any given evening, Frank has got politicians, mob bosses, celebrities, socialites, business types, guys in track suits with Rolex, and schmucks like me. "My job," Frank told us, "is to make all these people feel like they belong here." This means that in this tiny space, Frank makes very different differences go away. And then he plays the power impresario, mediating connections and brokering deals.
It’s fun watching the eyes of other watchers: people who observe for a living and make their living by deciding what it is they just saw. I mean, all the planners and anthropologists do exactly this. So, as I say, it’s fun to look into the eyes of someone who watches every night, in real time, with big consequences. You watch Frank watching and you find yourself thinking, here’s a guy who is interested in everything and surprised by nothing.
To Pam, my wife, who did the investigative anthropology.