An Ode to Being a Restaurant Regular

An Ode to Being a Restaurant Regular

A couple months before I moved to New York, back in 2005, I came to the city to scope things out. I ended up at a bar playing pool into the wee hours with a chatty boy with black hair and dark glasses. Three months later, when I landed in that same neighborhood, I stopped by the bar and there he was again, sipping a Budweiser, pool stick in hand…

“What are the chances?” I exclaimed as we hugged. He quickly explained, very high. He hung out at the dive around the corner from my Lower East Side shoebox apartment all. the. time. And soon enough, so did I. When your bedroom is so tiny that the only place to store your clothes is on a rod hung over your bed, you can either spend your time horizontal planning your next outfit or out at your favorite local spot. Maybe it’s a cafe, maybe it’s a restaurant. For me, it was the bar that became an extension of my home — a living room big enough to fit more than one chair, always filled with familiar faces, and yes, where everybody knows your name.

Cheers, Central Perk, The Peach Pit — there’s a reason hangouts often play supporting roles in our favorite TV shows. We all have those places that provide us with comfort and consistency. “Regulars make a city like New York feel like a small town,” says Carlos Quirarte, co-owner of The Smile in Manhattan. “The other night I saw one of our regulars at another local restaurant and later when I saw him at The Smile, he actually apologized for going somewhere else. Ha! I was like, ‘No worries, you gotta change it up.’ ”

Maybe it’s human nature to crave restaurant rituals? A survey conducted in England found that 98% of people there visit the same few places repeatedly. After outgrowing my Manhattan starter apartment, I moved to Brooklyn and once again established a spot. My friends and I often tried to force ourselves to widen our scope and try new places, but somehow we always ended up at our regular haunt chatting with our regular buddies at the end of the night.

Being a regular forges friendships, some that even transcend the establishment walls. “When I opened my place ten years ago, neighborhood moms came in with their little tiny babies, now those babies are coming in on their own after school,” says Ericka Burke, owner and chef of Volunteer Park Cafe in Seattle. “It’s been sweet to watch my own son, who’s six, grow up with his friends in the cafe — now they all go to school together.”

Sean Feeney, co-owner of Italian restaurant Lilia in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, befriended a regular couple who lives across the street. After they celebrated their engagement at the restaurant, Sean would jokingly offer up a piece of marriage advice each time they came in. Then, one night over pasta, they asked him to officiate their wedding ceremony, which he plans to do next year. “It was extremely humbling,” says Sean. “We’ve witnessed so many amazing events — we’ve met the parents and celebrated birthdays, promotions, births — but we’ve also seen guests grieve. Not everyone comes to Lilia happy. Those moments allow us to help and connect to people in a lasting way.”

These days, I have found yet another go-to. My boyfriend and I pop into a Taiwanese place around the corner from our apartment at least once a week. We have a spot where we always sit, we know the menu by heart and the chef often comes out of the kitchen to deliver our pork buns and say hi. Proximity is key, but it’s also the feeling of having “a place” that keeps us coming back.

What’s your spot? Have you ever had a regular restaurant, bar or cafe? What do you love about it?

P.S. Restaurant etiquette 101 and a dinner party conversation starter.