In Garlic and Sapphires, Ruth Reichl writes, “Every restaurant is a theater…even the modest restaurants offer the opportunity to become someone else, at least for a little while.” What we like best is to be in the audience. New York is marvel of people-watching–a dense population plus many public spaces equals stories unfolding everywhere, if you take the time to look. And a restaurant offers myriad possibilities. Where else might someone propose, break-up, rant about Bernie Madoff, drunkenly make-out, fall in love, or walk out in a huff, all in the company of strangers?
There’s even a website devoted to people-watching’s attendant entertainment, eavesdropping. Overheard in New York records gems like this one, overheard in the subway: Small girl: Good people don’t give up. Small boy: Jesus did.
We haven’t heard anything quite that good at a restaurant lately, but you never know. Anything might happen, and something always does.
We’ve picked our top 10 restaurants for people-watching–all of the eateries have acceptable food, but that’s not what it’s about. The list highlights places that show New Yorkers in all their ridiculous, diverse, splendid glory.
Turn the page to find out which restaurants made the top 10.
10. Bereket Turkish Kabob House (Turkish. Large window looks out onto Houston, assorted miscreants wander in.) 187 East Houston Street, 212-475-7700
9. The Wright (New American. The Guggenheim’s new restaurant hosts and entertaining group of tourists and well-preserved Upper East Siders, who talk about opera and Katie Lee Joel.) 1071 Fifth Avenue, 212-427-5690
8. The lunch counter at Grand Central Oyster Bar (Seafood. Sit at the serpentine counter and watch the action: fleet-handed oyster-shuckers, fleet-footed waiters, hurried commuters, blissed out oyster slurpers.) 89 East 42nd Street, 212-490-6653
7. The New French (Eclectic. A large window looks out onto Hudson, where the West Village parades by: Dogs large and small, cyclists, pretty people, drag queens.) 522 Hudson Street, 212-807-7357
6. City Bakery (Bakery. Great mix of people, ample viewing area from upstairs: Yuppie parents, tourists, hot chocolate freaks, and impeccably attired older people.) 3 West 18th Street, 212-366-1414
Next: the top five people-watching restaurants in New York…
5. Fred’s at Barney’s (American. This is the best place to take a gander at the ladies who lunch on salads and have credit card limits larger than our yearly salaries.) 660 Madison Avenue, 212-833-2200
4. Bar Pitti (Italian. An entertaining West Village mix that might include Julianne Moore or Susan Sarandon with their kids.) 268 Sixth Avenue, 212-982-330
3. Inakaya (Japanese izakaya. Circus-like atmosphere, forced audience participation: Watch Japanese businessmen knock back sake, pretty girls enlisted to publicly pound mochi, and tourists challenged to balance bottles of beer at the end of a long pole. Out the windows, Times Square and the Port Authority bustle.) 620 Eighth Avenue, 212-354-2130
2. Golden Shopping Mall (Assorted Chinese. Chefs fashion noodles, stuff dumplings, hack meat, make bread. The crowd of eaters includes foodies wandering around, camera in tow, hipsters, and people from all over China.) 41-28 Main Street, Flushing, 718-885-7788
1. Standard Grill (American. Filled with a crush of people who look like they stepped off a reality TV set: Swishy, orange-tanned, and muscled, abnormally tall women. John Stamos was there one night, as was a woman wearing denim panties and blue garter stockings. Plus, it’s in the notoriously voyeuristic sex hotel.) 848 Washington Street, 212-645-4100
Did we miss your favorite spot to be a voyeur? Let us know in the comments.