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Authors: Michael Fazio

Concierge Confidential (7 page)

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“So tell me a little bit about your background,” Ian asked me. “Have you done any hotel work before?”

“I have not,” I said. “What I
have
done is a lot of work in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles. I worked a great deal with celebrities, making sure that their accommodations were taken care of and that their needs were met. So I'm a hard worker with great attention to detail.”

Ian cocked his head a little bit. Something had clicked. “A chap like you would be good as a concierge.” He didn't call me a chap because he was British. He called me a chap because people who worked at places like the InterContinental used terms like that.

“Ah, that's it!” I said. Of course, the thought had never occurred to me, but as soon as Ian suggested it I knew it would be fun. If I'd often used concierges to do my job for me in Los Angeles, there was no reason I couldn't do theirs when I was in New York—aside from the fact that I knew practically nothing about the city. “That would be
perfect
.”

“You need to meet Abbie. If you think this is something that you'd like to do, then let's move forward.”

Two days later, I reported for orientation. I learned the rules of the hotel along with fifteen other new employees (mainly housekeepers and sanitation managers). I'd never been in a corporate environment, and I felt way out of my element. I had to learn arcane bits of trivia like that the hotel was founded in 1926—as if the guests would come up to the concierge desk and start to quiz me. There was no creativity or even
room
for creativity; if ambience were a color, this corporate world would be like a deep shade of beige—and on my first day I was scared out of my mind. It all started to hit me at once; I hadn't even thought about how I was going to have to wear a uniform.
Oh my God, I'm going to hate this job
.

Of course it didn't help that I was totally unqualified to pass as a New Yorker. I did background work on my own time, trying to guess what people would be asking for. I found the shoe repair, where the museums were and what their hours were, and what restaurants were right around the hotel. I tried to be as prepared as I could, because they were throwing me into the deep end of the pool.

The next day I went to sit in on the desk with Abbie. She had a gigantic smile and walked with a Bette Midler swagger, in addition to looking a bit like her, too. I knew we'd get along because Abbie wasn't just Jewish; she was New Jersey Jewish. And even though I was Catholic by birth, I was a Jewish boy at heart. I
loved
Yiddish words and I loved Jewish people. Hell, I even lived with a Jewish guy.

Abbie knew all the little nuances of New York and her enthusiasm was contagious. She taught me everything from the Rolodex to ordering cars to all the other minutiae which eventually wore on my attention span. That was until she said, “Let me tell you about theater tickets.”

Finally, something I could sink my teeth into.

“We
could
use brokers,” she said, “but if you're resourceful, you might do very well on your own. If we buy them from a broker, the tickets might be two hundred twenty-five dollars and they only give us a twenty-five-dollar commission. But if we buy them ourselves, then the tickets are eighty-five.”

“So how much do we charge for them?”

“Two hundred, obviously. It's a win-win. The guests don't know where you got them from and they don't care. If you sell that ticket for two hundred twenty-five dollars with an eighty-five dollar cost, that's obviously a lot more money.” She didn't make it sound scandalous because it was just how the system worked. If I worked the system then, with a little more effort, I could make a good deal more cash. In the same way that a store takes their product, marks it up, and makes a profit, I would be like other middlemen specializing in hard-to-get items.

I spent from three to five o'clock with Abbie, but after that I was on my own. I wasn't too worried, though. I had my little cheat sheet and had gotten used to the phone; eventually I stopped disconnecting people on accident. But by 7:00
P.M.
the three phone lines were lighting up
constantly
. I made sure to be calm, so it
seemed
like I knew the answer to whatever the question was. I could guess from people's accents—and there were many—what kind of food they were looking for. I didn't know what “halal” meant, but I knew enough to look in Zagat's for Middle Eastern.

“Good evening, concierge. This is Michael. How may I be of assistance?”

“Hello, I'm calling from room 1212. Do you know where I can get some good chateaubriand?”

She didn't have an accent; therefore, I had no idea where to send her. “I'm pretty sure I know
exactly
where to send you. Let me look up the address and I'll call you right away.”

Chateaubriand sounded French and it also sounded like a brand of wine. I got out the phone book to call the local liquor store. “Do you sell chateaubriand?” I asked them.

A pause. “No, we don't.”

“Okay. Where do you think I can get chateaubriand?”

“I don't know. A steak restaurant?”

“Huh? Oh, it's a steak?”

“Yes, chateaubriand is a cut of steak,” he said, not unkindly.

“Thank you very much.” Smith & Wollensky was on my short list of places to send guests already. Why, I was practically a natural at my new job!

As my first shift was coming to an end, a man straight out of
The Sopranos
approached my concierge desk. He was a total cliché: shiny skin, shiny shoes, a little rotund, with his hair greased back and too much gold on his fingers. “Hello,” he said, shaking my hand. “I'm Silvio. Welcome to the neighborhood!”

I felt the money cross from his palm to mine, and I put it away discreetly. I didn't know if it was wrong or not, so I felt kind of dirty for even taking it. “Thank you very much,” I told him.

“I'm the owner of Cinquanta, two blocks away on Fiftieth. Everybody loves my restaurant, and I want you to know that I will always have a table for you. If you're ever in a bind with getting people seated somewhere, don't worry. Just ask for me.”

“Thanks so much!” I said.
Wow,
I thought to myself.
So
this
is how it works
.
I never would have guessed that the owners would be making the rounds of new concierges
.

“All kinds of celebrities come to the restaurant,” Silvio went on. “We're right across the street from the Palace Hotel.”

As new to New York as I was, even I was aware that the Palace was first class. This Cinquanta restaurant must have been the same. And if the owner was telling me to ask for him personally, then it must also be really busy. As Silvio walked away, I looked at how much money he had actually given me. It was several hundred dollars; it was so much money that I didn't feel comfortable accepting it—but I couldn't exactly return it to him, either. I felt suddenly beholden to him.

Which, I guessed, was the point.

I had my short list of places where I would send guests of the hotel—and now I had one more name to add. I didn't even tell Abbie; Silvio was my first big city contact, and I was going to keep him my little secret. Every night, his hostess would call the desk when I was alone and ask for me by name. “Ciao, Michael!” she said, in her charming Italian accent. “How are you tonight? Come for a drink after work! Anything you need, call me.”

They're so nice,
I thought.
It's a really hot Midtown restaurant, yet they're trying to help me.
And I was worried about leaving Los Angeles.

I kept sending guests of the hotel to Cinquanta. “Ask for Silvio,” I told them. “He'll take care of you.”

And he did. Whenever the guests came back from dining there, they would always tell me how charming Silvio was and how special he made them feel. Finally, one night after work, I decided to go there myself and check out where I'd been referring everyone.

Walking toward Cinquanta, I could easily spot the restaurant from far away. It had an ultra-modern façade and visually stood out on the old-school block. The exterior of brushed stainless steel matched the décor of the restaurant inside. The cold metal was juxtaposed with bright colors, which brought to mind Miami. In fact, as I looked around the room and the diners, the place reminded too much of Miami. True, the place was full of people who had money, wore nice clothes, and enjoyed quality things. But it lacked a vibe, an atmosphere; the kind of thing that might attract a more exclusive, celebrity clientele.

I sat down at the bar and it wasn't long before Silvio appeared. He started offering plate after plate of food for me to sample. The whole staff came by and said hello, as if they knew me. I thought the place was pretty great—until I started eating.

The food was beautifully displayed, but
horrible
. It was like they got it at a deli and put it on a plate, the culinary proof that you can't put lipstick on a pig. When I saw the prices (thirty-five dollars for pasta!), I realized why it was possible for Silvio to be handing out hundred-dollar bills in exchange for recommending guests.

I was crestfallen.
How am I going to get out of this? I can't send people here
. That's when what Silvio was doing clicked. He wasn't being nice. He was being a businessman—and a good one. It was time for me to start doing the same.

The calls from Silvio didn't stop coming at the hotel. “No one's asking for Italian,” I constantly had to tell him.

“We do steak!” he insisted. I couldn't tell him no. I knew he was a good guy, just trying to make a living. I'd try to throw Silvio a bone whenever I could. After all, a good restaurant experience isn't always predicated on the quality of the food. Some people want to be fawned over. Some people
want
to brag that they went to New York, and dropped thirty-five dollars for spaghetti; those people I'd send to Cinquanta. If they hated the food, at least they were never disappointed by the experience.

Now I was back to having just four restaurants that I could recommend to guests. Even if someone wanted to go to a different place every night, I was prepared.

Unless, of course, someone happened to be staying for five nights.

The guest was a middle-aged man, very well dressed, with brown hair in a conservative cut. “That restaurant was so great last time,” he said. “Where would you suggest just like that?”

“Right.” I had no idea what “last time” was, since I'd been making reservations all week. “Have you been to Le Cirque, and to Patroon?”

“You sent us there after Smith & Wollensky and Hatsuhana. We were thinking something along those lines, but downtown.”

I had no idea that I'd be asked for reservations in other neighborhoods. I blinked at the guest. He blinked back at me. I smiled at the guest. He smiled back at me.
Just go back to your room for a minute and let me look through the Yellow Pages,
I thought at him, but he wasn't telepathic at all.

“So … do you have any suggestions?” he said.

“I know the
perfect
place,” I told him. I struggled to remember the name of the restaurant down the block from my teeny apartment. It was a little eatery down the street, and it didn't even have a sign out front. If you walked by Il Cantinori, you'd miss it. I didn't know the place had a reputation, that Robert Mapplethorpe had often eaten there in denial of his advancing illness. I couldn't know that years later Carrie Bradshaw would have her birthday there and Victoria Gotti would have her book release party there. Hell, I wasn't even sure what it was
called
. “Il Contori,” I said, desperately trying to remember its name from when Jeffrey had once mentioned it. “It's down on Tenth Street. It's great.”

“Okay, we're going to need a table for six.”

I picked up my copy of Zagat's, found the phone number (and the correct name!), and called the place. “Hi, this is the InterContinental Hotel. Can I get six people in, in about fifteen minutes?”

“Are you kidding?” the host said.

I lowered my voice so the guest wouldn't hear me. “Come on, you've got to help me out. I live right upstairs from you.”

“You do?”

“Yes. I live right on Tenth Street.” I
did
live upstairs—two buildings over, but upstairs.

“Really? What apartment are you in?”

“I'm on the second floor.”

“But what
apartment
?” the host asked.

“I overlook the street.” I made it a point to chuckle in front of the hotel guest, as if this were my old buddy on the phone giving me a hard time.


Oh
. So then, do you know Kevin?” Kevin was the owner of the building. Kevin knew the host. Kevin happened to be in Il Cantinori at that exact moment, and he was looking at the host while we were on the phone.

“Of course I know him!” I said, hoping the host wouldn't ask me for a description of whoever Kevin was.

The host didn't say anything for a while. I think the bastard wanted to make sure that I was sweating. “All right, send them over,” he finally told me. “And then come by and see me later. My name is Frank.”

“Thank you,” I said, hanging up the phone. I turned to the guest with my biggest smile. “You're all set for Il Cantinori in fifteen minutes.”

“You're the best,” he told me.

That night I made sure to swing by the restaurant on my way home. I had expected to be greeted by a prissy maître d' with a little mustache. Instead I got Frank, who looked like he could have been a former linebacker. “Hi,” I said. “I'm Michael. I'm the concierge who called you earlier from the InterContinental.”

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