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Famous Boston hosts and hostesses

I'm thinking of people akin to Elaine Kaufman of Elaine's on the Upper East Side, or Jimmy Neary of Neary's in Midtown Manhattan. Who really knows how to work a room here in Boston?

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  1. Well, you can never miss Deborah Hughes at Upstairs on the Square.

    1 Reply
    1. Formerly, Pietro Valentini at Julien and Rowe's Wharf. Say what you will about Anthony, his customers loved him at one time.

      2 Replies
      1. re: trufflehound

        and much like the soon-to-be-demolished pier 4, that hey-day was 40+ years ago.

        1. re: hotoynoodle

          when i first came to boston, i ate there frequently. The food was nothing special, but the wine list was unbelieveable; great wine at fantastic prices. And Anthony was usually there greeting his guests.

          What he did not do, unlike the hosts in NYC, was create a caste of preferred customers versus the hoi polloi. That is something about Boston's restaurant scene; we do not pay to be mistreated.

      2. i think the era of that kind of schmoozer has passed. people would rather meet the chef. both lydia and ming are great at the dining room glad-handing.

        that being said, romeo, now of strega waterfront, formerly of abe & lous', has quite a following, as did dante at the federalist.

        as for running a room? esti parsons and christopher meyers were an unbeatable duo and had some of the best -run dining rooms in the city. places like radius and via matta, where they were formerly partners, are mere shadows of themselves.

        19 Replies
        1. re: hotoynoodle

          It starts and ends with Esti Parsons in my book.

          1. re: hotoynoodle

            Servio from Bergamot does a good job of running the room, remembering patrons and likes, although in a much more modern efficient style. Restaurants with an owner/chef/host tend to be more attentive to patrons, particularly repeat guests (Rendezvous, Bistro 5, even Estragon although its much larger and gets crowds).

            We recently had an odd experience with an owner awkwardly himself (and interrupting our conversation) at a seafood restaurant and I ended up telling the table about "Dom" from Dom's in the North End. Without any warning he would sit down at patron's table, cross his legs and fidget with his eyeglasses, until conversation halted so he could "guide you through the menu." He would openly criticize patron's choices (first taking off his glasses slowly), although ultimately accept them, unlike Paolo from Scalinatella who is another character from the 90s with good taste who could tank a business dinner with poor table manners.

            The Italian restaurant host who helps you select your entree still lives on and Gran Gusto is a decent example and an good overall host.

            The owner of Cafe Brazil is not much of a host in the American fashion, but very typical for Brazil -- watching the dining room and directing the waitstaff, expediting plates, and of course giving extra attention to tables spending more money.

            1. re: itaunas

              I love the owner of Cafe Brazil - his warm welcome and friendly presence make even a modest dinner there feel special.

              (Speaking of Cafe Brazil, are thy closed for vacation? I pass them every evening on the bus on my way home from work, and they've been closed and dark on several recent evenings.)

              1. re: itaunas

                @ rendezvous, i most often see chef/owner steve johnson out front, so i don't put that in the same category.

                was in estragon the other other night and while chef/owner Julio de Haro was on and off the floor, the woman acting as floor manager was nearly zombie-like in conversation. so odd we all remarked on it again the following day.

                1. re: itaunas

                  Servio is indeed great at remembering people's names and greeting them warmly. It was amusing when we saw him out at Brick & Mortar one night. When we left, he said goodbye to us as if it was his establishment and thanked us for coming. I'm not sure he can turn off his excellent front of the house mindset...


                  1. re: itaunas

                    Totally agree about Servio. Really charming, warm personality in the dining room.

                  2. re: hotoynoodle

                    Romeo is nice to you as long as you pay him to be.

                    1. re: CocoDan

                      all i said was "he has a following." i am not one of that group. :)

                      1. re: CocoDan

                        Is there something wrong with accepting gratuities when a host or hostess?

                        1. re: libertywharf

                          It depends. I'd be pretty upset if I had a confirmed reservation but was forced to wait for it because a host allowed walk-ins to bribe their way in ahead of me.


                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                            I suppose people get bumped for just that reason but the nature of the business entails gratuities.

                            1. re: libertywharf

                              what nature of the business entails gratuities? no doubt it entails people offering them to you, i don't think it entails accepting it, and surely plenty of restaurants would frown on their host doing that... as would, and in most cases should, many customers.

                              i'll admit there are circumstances where its a fine line when it comes to tipping an extraordinary amount to someone like a waiter or bartender in order to establish a rapport and be recognized later, but the notion of someone outright buying entrance to a restaurant strikes me the wrong way.

                              of course, this may only be to say, the types of people who would seek to do that, and the types of places that seek to have that happen, are not the kinds of people and places i would hope to be around, at least.

                              1. re: valcfield

                                We are talking about Schhhtrega Waterfront, after all.


                                1. re: MC Slim JB

                                  Didn't this thread start out as a discussion about the front of the pro's that made dining in Boston a great experience? Where have you eaten lately were the staff, owner, wait staff or bar staff left you feeling like you can't wait to comeback for more great hospitality? Let's be positive. Plenty of other places to rant about the negative experiences around town.

                                  1. re: eatinginboston

                                    Well, threads sometimes go off in directions other than where they started.

                                    I personally find the subject of graft-accepting hosts fascinating. Who else in town lets you bribe your way to a table ahead of folks with reservations, and how much does it cost? Does it vary by night of the week? I know how to grease a palm discreetly, but a pricing schedule would be handy.


                                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                                      Wouldnt' that be a new convesation?
                                      Not an extention of who is doing a good or better yet great job of hospitality?

                                      1. re: eatinginboston

                                        As I said, many threads do not go that way: they ramble all over the place. Sometimes we focus on what's awesome on the scene, sometimes on the less awesome, sometimes, as I have done here, both in the same thread. The Internet will not be bridled.


                                2. re: valcfield

                                  Have you been in the restaurant business or even been connected to it! Tipping hosts is and has been part of the business for years. Just because you may not partake of it, doesn't mean it should not happen.

                              2. re: MC Slim JB

                                if there is a cost for a seating, then it should be made clear.

                                i eat at expensive restaurants in Manhattan and Paris but the costs are clear to me before I dine. If i am want to eat at 7 pm, the restaurant should make clear the cost of such a reservation.

                        2. If we are going into the way back machine, I'll throw Kevin Cadigan of Jimmy's Harborside out there.

                          Anthony was a great marketer and knew how to get people into his place. He was just ok inside and down rite rude to people not white. I saw him kick out Brian Shaw, Reggie and D Brown.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: libertywharf

                            kevin caddigan has been a wine rep since before i was born, i think, lol, so jimmy's was a LOOOONG time ago.

                            1. re: hotoynoodle

                              Yes, I run into Kevin around the seaport district. He was Jimmy's for years as the asst. Gm but all the regulars went to him rather then Costas, the gm.

                          2. There was Bette at Bette's Rolls Royce in Fanueil Hall. Remember the car but not so much about the food.

                            1. Jaime at Sound Bites. He remembers us every time, asks about school. He's a total sweetheart.

                              1. I thought Joday Adams was very warm to my party of 5 at Rialto

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: phonelady

                                  indeed, she is gracious, but is a chef/owner.

                                2. Jeannie Rogers at Il Cappriccio was a hostess and sommelier who made a big impression on me back in the day.


                                  1. Not really working the room, but who can forget the host who always wore a tuxedo at The European..

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: pemma

                                      i LOVED the kitsch of that guy! tuxedos the color of necco wafers! brought my nyc mom in there in the mid-80s specifically to see him and for he wine that came out of taps in the wall. :)

                                      1. re: pemma

                                        I was hoping someone would mention him. When I was a kid in the suburbs, my family would go to the European maybe once a week. As we grew older, (entered teenagerhood), our trips there became much less frequent, but on the rare occasion we found ourselves there, he ALWAYS recognized us and did what he could to get us in. A couple, few years after the European closed, my father and brother found themselves at the Union Oyster House, and there he was! And he still recognized them all those years later, and they had a little chat. I know it doesn't seem like much, but he made a HUGE impression on my family.

                                        1. re: pemma

                                          Armando Aprile - I think his first name was Armando - or was that the brother/cousin. Anyway, for a while he could be found at the family outpost in Stoneham - I forget the name of it - we ate there once. My parents' first date was at the European and any time we had a special occasion growing up - that's where we went. He was a family friend and beloved to anyone who frequented the European. It pains me to see the space as a CVS. {sigh}

                                          1. re: Small Plates

                                            I admittedly was only at The European once when I was 8 years old before a trip to the old Garden to see some WWF Wrestling... but I have always been under the impression that it was in the Taranta space, not CVS? Have I been wrong all this time?

                                            1. re: mkfisher

                                              Nope - the European was where CVS is now. Ugh. :(

                                        2. Hedda Rev-Kury & her sister, Edith, at Cafe Budapest.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Taralli

                                            I was just about to mention the Cafe Budapest ladies

                                            1. re: Taralli

                                              Mario Labadini was the one who I always dealt with at the Budapest. He left well before it closed and opened the Charles Rest on chestnut street, which stood for a decade or so.

                                            2. Since no one's stipulated that this has to be a formal affair, Antoria at Clover's brick and mortar in Harvard Square is pretty much the mayor.

                                              1. Nice throwback references. Today consummate pros are:
                                                Andrew Holden from ES
                                                Meredith Divenney at Menton
                                                John Gertson at Drink
                                                Braham Callahan and Jason Babb at Grill 23
                                                Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli Island Creek
                                                Esti Parsons at Sam's continues to be great
                                                Chris frrom Puritan
                                                Alexis Gelburd-Kimler from West Bridge
                                                Dan Kerrigan from Steel and Rye
                                                These people are the present and the future of hospitality in Boston.

                                                9 Replies
                                                1. re: eatinginboston

                                                  We've been friends with Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli since his days at Eastern Standard. Followed him over to Craigie, then back to ICOB. One evening we were meeting friend at The Hawthorne, but they were closed for a private event. We peeked into ICOB, but it was a zoo, so we started to walk down to ES. Tom came out on the street and said "You don't have to leave, you know!" I looked at him and remarked how crazy it was in there. "No worries" he said to us, ushering us in and setting up two chairs at the bar behind the hostess table. He even sent over some complimentary clams because we had to "wait" for him to set up the chairs. A top notch guy for a top notch restaurant.

                                                    1. re: kimfair1

                                                      Andrew and Tom are getting kudos, deservedly so, from ES, and no one's giving love to Garrett Harker? Didn't they both bloom under his tutelage, as did Jackson Cannon? He seems to be setting the standard in Boston these days.

                                                      1. re: justbeingpolite

                                                        jackson and tom certainly did, but andrew has hospitality in his dna -- i knew him at clio, before he joined up with garrett. he also has an amazing dorian gray going thing going on since he looks exactly the same as he did back then!

                                                        1. re: justbeingpolite

                                                          I'd give kudos to all four. ES and ICOB are easy recs for out of town visitors because I can always count on them to take care of guests regardless of whether you are a regular, a whale, or even a cheap non-drinking couple.

                                                          Top notch hospitality; I only wish it would trickle down to other places.

                                                        2. re: kimfair1

                                                          Having been a hotel resto host and manager myself way back in the day, I respect the job hosts do and appreciate the pressures increased now from back then to 'work the crowd'. That being said, Tom at ICOB works the crowd well and I like him greatly, but he is the manager there at ICOB, not a host.
                                                          To my mind the best resto host there ever was in Boston (especially circa 1980) was the indomitable Mme Martel at first the Hungry Pilgrim, then Café Rouge, at the Boston Park Plaza. I worshipped that woman.

                                                          1. re: marais

                                                            The Boston Park Plaza has always been a fav of mine. Started frequenting there in 1978. Thanks for the throw back.

                                                        3. re: eatinginboston

                                                          don't know the others, but wholeheartedly second Alexis from West Bridge.

                                                          1. re: eatinginboston

                                                            fantastical list. :) thanks for this.

                                                            i worked with holden pre-esk and he was of super-human energy even then.

                                                          2. I am not sure what it means that I haven't heard of any of these fine people. Must be part of the hoi polloi.

                                                            1. Mark Delassandro at Mistral

                                                              1. I'm surprised that this long list did not yet include Nino, the super-gracious "maestro" at Gran Gusto. He not only always remembers my wife and I, he remembers things we discussed during previous visits.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: Tonality666

                                                                  Oh, yes. When I dine alone he will chat with me for fifteen minutes at a time. A great guy.