Three days ago I found myself in the Theater District because of the messy, grindy and endlessly frustrating MTA of 2017.
So, I walked over to Carmine’s on 44th street and sat down at the bar.
Not much has changed over the years. Black and white uniformed aces move fluidly through the dining room like an elite restaurant special forces unit, and the same pictures of Tony, Frank, Deano and slick-haired wise guys cover the dusty walls end to end. Even the bar feels and smells the same.
I found my favorite picture of Enrico Caruso on the wall and took him in. I always used to cut lemons in the coffee station and then purposely walk by to catch his eye. That Tenor had the world by the balls, I would think. Grande.
Sitting at the bar with my pool-sized negroni, many old friends that still work the floor came by to say hello. I think they must put something in that just wilted family meal salad because they all look the same. A crew of smiling, Scarpariello slinging, Titanic Sundae serving assassins.
Memories came flooding back.
“ We laughed and told stories about the restaurant that I can't ever bring myself to write down.
They are a family-size portion of hilarious, a heaping side of hospitality warfare and a small side of tragedy here and there. Let’s just say that if you ever meet someone who has worked at Carmine’s, they have seen things.
After I had my Veal Parm combo, I made my way through the main dining room. Just next to the service bar, I ran into my old friend Peter and gave him a hug.
I trained Peter to be a server while he was high and jittery. I did my best to shepherd him through training because I liked him and I knew he really needed the job. For years we did the sugar bowl side work together before the dreaded Wednesday Matinee where no coffee was ever hot enough and the Penne alla Vodka was always missing “Brosciutt.” Peter was always good for a raunchy story, quick puns, and some deep philosophy. We laughed together a lot.
One day I called in sick and he had to do the side work alone. The next day I found an envelope in my locker containing this poem:
No one to stuff the bowls with.
Blue hairs telling their trolls to roll with
the punch, the crush….of a Looperless Wednesday.
I hadn’t thought about that poem in years and it came back to me like a thunderbolt right there at the crowded service station. I recited it back to him with a mini Hamilton flourish and we laughed like we did back in the day. I told him how much that poem meant to me. It is nice to be missed.
After I said goodbye, I walked out into Times Square and realized that 10 years ago to the day was my last shift at Carmine’s.