Ever since Dame transitioned from pop-up to permanent restaurant in June 2021, it’s been one of New York’s hardest reservations to score. Throughout its many different iterations, first as a pop-up at Lower East Side coffee shop Round K in 2020, then as a fish-and-chips counter and pop-up host, followed by a stint as a wintertime deli and bottle shop in Greenwich Village, Dame garnered a loyal following for chef-owner Ed Szymanski’s modern British cooking. More than two years later, diners still are clamoring for a taste.
Haven’t been able to get a table? That’s where we come in. Welcome back to The One Who Keeps the Book, a regular series that aims to answer all the most important questions about how to get into a restaurant. The first solution is Resy, of course. But every restaurant manages its tables differently, and there are always tips, tricks, and shortcuts to be discovered. So here, we go straight to the source to get them for you.
At Dame, owner Patricia Howard gives us the scoop on how to get in, what to order when you finally do, and what’s next for her and Szymanski.
Resy: How many seats are there at Dame?
Howard: We have 20 seats at tables and seven seats at the counter inside. And about 30 seats outside. But our kitchen maxes out around 35 people at once, so we can never fully seat both the inside and the outside at the same time.
When do reservations drop on Resy?
We just changed this last week [from three weeks out], and now reservations are live three months out at noon.
How quickly do seats get booked out?
Within the first few minutes for the first two turns. So, we do a six o’clock seating, an eight o’clock seating, and a 10 o’clock. And the first two turns are now booked up for those three months, with a few exceptions. And then the 10 p.m. spots are usually still open until a little bit closer to the date.
On Mondays, you’re walk-in only, right?
Yes. When we opened, we wanted to be a neighborhood restaurant and we hated the idea that people were kind of dismissing us as just impossible to get into. And we hated hearing the stories of people who were like, “I’ve been trying every day at noon for the past six months and I still can’t get into your restaurant.” So we started walk-in Mondays. And Mondays are an industry night because a lot of our friends’ restaurants are closed on Mondays, so we decided to close on Saturdays and open on Mondays to cater to that industry crowd. But, of course, our dream of having people just be able to walk in at 8 p.m. and get a seat at the counter, well, New Yorkers didn’t allow that. Now at 4 o’clock a line forms, and then at 5:30 p.m. we take names and start assigning times, and then people come back throughout the night. So, you might request an 8 p.m. table or something and then you can go get a drink or go home, then come back at your reservation time.
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Do you have to show up when the line forms at 4 p.m. if you want to get in? Let’s say you showed up at 6 p.m. Would you be out of luck?
By 6, there’s usually nothing left, unless the table sizes work in your favor. Like maybe the line was all four-tops and we only have so many four-tops, so there might be a two-top left if you show up at 6 p.m., but that’s fairly rare.
Do you allow walk-ins any other night?
No, just Mondays. Occasionally somebody cancels, so we’ll post on our Instagram — on a Wednesday or something — “8 p.m. no-show at the counter” and it usually gets booked up right away. But if you get super-lucky, you might be able to walk in if somebody no-shows.
What are your busiest nights? Least busy nights?
Fridays usually book up more quickly or farther in advance, but then the rest of the week is fair game. Although we’re fully booked every night, so they’re all pretty equal.
How many covers do you do on a given night?
During winter, we’re only seating inside, so 80 is about our max. And then in the summer, we’ll do 100-plus covers, or 110 maybe; that’s about our max in the summer. To be able to do that volume though, we have to simplify our menu a little bit. In the winter, because it’s fewer people, we’re able to make the dishes a bit more complex.
How long is your Notify list on average? Any specific day or time when you’d be most likely to get off the list?
On Fridays, there’s usually about 1,200 people on the Notify list. On weeknights, it’s more like 600 to 800. People have said it’s really difficult to get the “Notify Me” slots, but if you press the button right when you see the pop-up, you could get in. We do have regulars who just get off the Notify list once a week, so if you’re willing to play the game, you can definitely get in that way. And my hope is that by opening reservations three months out, it kind of spreads out the demand, and I hope that the Notify alerts are more effective with this new system.
We do have regulars who just get off the Notify list once a week, so if you’re willing to play the game, you can definitely get in that way.
Can you book tables for larger groups?
Six is our max. But we’re closed on Saturdays and Sundays, so we do private events on those nights. And that’s when, if you’re larger than a six-top, we recommend booking a private event. Because we’re so small, it really is a fun environment to have the whole space to yourself.
Are you regularly booked for events on Saturdays and Sundays? Or is it easier to get in that way?
Not always, but all of April and some of May now, we have events on both Saturdays and Sundays. I think it’s because we’re going into the spring, or maybe the word is getting out or something, but we’re definitely more booked than usual for the upcoming weekends.
What’s the best seat in the house? And can diners request specific tables?
I take very seriously what someone wants, like if you want to sit at the counter. I put all the different table options on Resy, and I honor that ’til I die. If you book the counter, I’m not moving you to a booth or something. So on Resy, there’s “table,” “booth,” “counter,” “high-top with backless bar stool,” and then our last table is this cozy corner spot with a bench seat. I call it the “date-night spot.” It’s in the corner of the restaurant, so you’re looking out at the restaurant, but you’re seated next to your partner, and it’s a little round, marble table. I think that’s the best spot in the house. A lot of people think the counter seats are the best spots in the house though, because you’re looking into the open kitchen and watching the action.
It’s Friday night at 7 p.m. Can you set the scene at the restaurant?
The sun has just set and it’s finally the ideal lighting in the restaurant. It gets dark and moody inside. And our playlist is all disco. It’s definitely a lot of people’s favorite part of the restaurant; they always go home talking about the playlist. But there’s food coming out of the kitchen; people are sitting for the second seating and the first seating is finishing up. It’s definitely one of the most bustling times of the night, and it’s crowded, a little bit loud, and dark. But the energy really picks up around then.
What are the dishes that guests definitely need to order?
We definitely have some classics that have been on the menu since the beginning, and enough people would come pounding on the door if we ever took them off, so we always have grilled oysters with green Chartreuse Hollandaise. And the squid-and-scallion skewers, and tuna tartare and bottarga on toast. And then the fish and chips. Those are kind of the classics that we can’t take off the menu.
Do you have a personal favorite dish?
My current favorite dish is the grilled cabbage with black truffle and mussels. But cabbage season is coming to an end, so it will be going soon. The entrees change often. We usually try to do a whole grilled fish or a shareable entree and then some smaller, individual entrees. During the winter, there’s not much produce to pick from, but in the summer, Ed is at the farmers market every day picking whatever looks best and coming up with dishes that night. So, it changes a lot more frequently in the summer.
Dame does specifically British seafood, but what else differentiates it from all the other seafood restaurants in New York?
Ed’s creativity. His way of elevating simple ingredients and reinventing them, or serving them in a way you wouldn’t think of. In the summer, one of those dishes is a cucumber salad. It doesn’t sound that exciting — it’s just a cucumber salad — but he uses a mussel sauce underneath the cucumbers and tops the dish with smoked mussels and grated horseradish. And so many people walk away being like, “I’ve never thought of those flavors together. That’s the most amazing thing.” It’s definitely the sleeper hit on the menu; it doesn’t sound very exciting, but then everybody goes away talking about it. I think that really characterizes what Ed does differently.
There was an incident in early March when a mob of anti-vaxxers bombarded your restaurant in protest of your vaccine mandate. Did it change your mind about your rules? And how have things been since?
It’s really made it the most difficult month since we’ve opened. They’ve come back weekly, and we haven’t been posting about it because we think it draws more attention to their cause and encourages them. But we now pay for a bouncer every night and that just sucks.
But the anti-vaxxers are not causing us to change our mind. We are going to keep the vaccine mandate, especially because COVID is on the rise again and it seems stupid to remove the mandate if they’re probably going to have to bring it back again soon. It does suck, though, to have our guests’ meals interrupted, and it’s not a pleasant experience for our staff or diners when the protesters are in our restaurant, but so far nobody’s walked out or anything.
Everyone is very supportive of us, and that does make it easier. But it really does take a toll on our staff, because it’s a very stressful environment when the anti-vaxxers are there yelling at them, or threatening them, or just interrupting their ability to keep doing their job. That’s the part that sucks the most for me: knowing that our staff has to deal with that.
On a more positive note, any big plans for the future? New pop-ups or guest chefs?
Yes! We plan to open a new restaurant this fall. It will have a broader but still English menu, but involving more meat, in addition to seafood and vegetables. And it’ll be in Greenwich Village, very close to Dame. We should be signing the lease in the next week or so.
Dame is open Monday through Friday from 6 to 11 p.m.