Eddie Hudson has seen it all at Raoul’s. For 44 years, the eminent maître d’ has witnessed everything from art scene tete-a-tetes to late-night drag performances to a procession of VIPs for whom the term “A-list” doesn’t even come close to describing accurately.
Hudson joined Raoul’s four years after it opened in 1975 and has become known for his signature bowtie and uncanny memory for names, faces, and drink orders. He’s the mastermind behind one of the most coveted reservations in the city. Among the things that keep people coming to Raoul’s: the city’s best au poivre, a lively bar scene, and the fact that the restaurant is full of surprises. A psychic holds court on the second floor; the dining room houses an incredible art collection; and a young Thomas Keller once toiled in its kitchen. Current executive chef David Honeysett has been responsible for Raoul’s impeccable consistency for the last two decades. He also helms the kitchen at the restaurant’s brand-new sibling, Revelie Luncheonette, across the street.
Though Hudson warns, “It’s very difficult to get a table,” it’s not actually impossible. A few upcoming changes at the restaurant will increase seats and the chances of scoring one. In this installment of “The One Who Keeps the Book,” he shares all the current intel on how to get in the door.
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Resy: How many seats to you have?
Hudson: 68 indoors, plus eight barstools. And we have 34 to 38 seats outside in the enclosure.
Can people reserve seats at the bar?
The bar is walk-in only. Usually people line up between 4:30 and 5 p.m. to get a seat. We open at 5 p.m. and the kitchen opens at 5:15 p.m. And the line is usually for one of our 12 burgers that we sell only at the bar, except for the weekends. On the weekends, you can order the burger at the bar and tables at brunch only, and we’ll have a whole lot more than 12.
What’s the deal with the booth up the spiral staircase, near the psychic?
That’s just a lounge area to wait for a table or the bar. There’s no service there. It’s strictly cocktails that people bring up from the bar.
There are rumors of a new back room. What’s the situation?
We are moving the kitchen and we’re adding more dining space in the back which will add 14 seats. The new room will look just like the main room, with a pressed-tin ceiling and some nice pieces of art. It should be fully operational by November. We’ll have bathrooms downstairs now instead of upstairs, too.
What You Need to Know
Plan Ahead: Reservations drop 30 days ahead at 8 a.m.
The Layout: Raoul’s has an eight-seat bar, reserved for walk-ins; a main dining room; and an outdoor enclosure. A new back room will debut in November.
Pro Tip: Come early at 4:30 p.m. to try and snag a bar seat; come at brunch; or come late at 10:30 p.m. before the kitchen closes at 11 p.m.
Walk On In: The eight bar seats are reserved for walk-ins. Show up around 4:30 p.m. to line up for a bar seat or try walking in at brunch on the weekend.
Prime Time: Tuesday through Saturday from 7:30 to 9:30 p. m.
Must-Orders: Steak au poivre; burger au poivre (sold in limited quantities); pommes frites; artichoke vinaigrette; profiteroles. Bordeaux; classic martini; espresso martini; Paper Plane; tequila Negroni.
When do your reservations drop on Resy?
Thirty days out at 8 a.m.
And when your reservations drop on Resy how long do they last?
They are snapped up within a couple of hours.
How long is your Notify list, usually?
For tonight, a Thursday, the list is 167 tables long, which means 463 people trying to get in the door. On weekends, it could be 500 to 600 tables, so that means between 1,700 to 1,900 people trying to get in.
Whoa. When’s the best time to walk in?
Very early when we open, at 5 p.m. or later at 10:30 p.m. The kitchen closes at 11 p.m. Another good time to walk in is brunch on Saturday and Sunday.
What’s the best seat in the house, in your opinion?
Any of the booths. We have seven booths. My favorite booth is table 203, where the Bert Stern photo of Marilyn Monroe with the X through it hangs. It’s where I put my wife when she comes in. I like it because you can see the bar without being in the bar mix. And it has the best view of the whole restaurant. All of the booths are highly sought after.
What is your busiest time?
We’re busy seven days a week but I’d say Tuesday through Saturday are the busiest shifts, and 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. is prime time.
Set the scene for me on a Friday night at 7 p.m. What’s happening?
The restaurant will be full, and we will try to turn one and a half to two times after that. The crowd will be a combination of old regulars and new customers along with the next generation, the kids of longtime regulars. It’s a mix of locals and visitors, tourists from abroad and all over the states. We’ll be playing some upbeat music. We like to keep it upbeat, lively, not too loud, and in keeping with the spirit of the room.
How many covers are you doing on your busiest night?
Two-hundred-and-fifty is our current limit. Of course, we’ll get those 14 additional seats in November. And with the new kitchen, we’ll be able to put the food out faster, so that we can seat more people per half hour than we do now.
What’s your favorite order?
Steamed artichoke for an appetizer, then a steak au poivre, and profiteroles for dessert.
What are the most popular orders on the wine and cocktail list?
For the wine list, a lot of Bordeaux and Pinot Noir. The wine list is mainly French-focused. We recently devoted a new page to white Bordeaux and we have also added whites from Alsace, which is where the Raoul family comes from.
In terms of cocktails, the tequila Negroni is very popular; we have a Paper Plane cocktail that is also very popular. Espresso martinis will be on seven out of 10 tables. And our classic martinis are always a top order. They are so good because they are served in a cold glass and well-chilled and vigorously stirred or shaken.
So, what made you stay at Raoul’s all these years?
It’s a special, magical place. I have always loved it here.
Rob Jones, who passed away from AIDS in 1989, was a beloved, legendary maître d’ here. What did he teach you?
He was a master at taking care of people. He was a comedian. He could dance like Fred Astaire. Sing Like Frank Sinatra. He was just … genius. When we’d be busy and I’d have people upset with me because they were waiting a long time for their reservation, Rob would come over, crack a couple jokes, buy them a drink and buy me another 15 minutes. And they’d be happy. That’s a talent, that’s skill. I hope that over the years, I’ve absorbed something from him.
Why do you think Raoul’s has endured and stayed so popular throughout the years?
The food is consistently good. And we also make sure there is very good service. If there’s ever a problem we take care of it.
What’s the most outrageous thing that anyone has ever done to try to get a seat at Raoul’s?
Offer their first born. Jokingly, of course, but it has happened. A couple of people try to buy their way in and I just tell them, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that.” There’s a lot of lying. People pretending they have a reservation when they don’t. Or people who say they are coming in with a popular actor, for example. I know all the tricks.
What’s your biggest takeaway from your time here?
When there’s a problem, you acknowledge it. And when we have people waiting, I always approach the customer and say, “I’m sorry, we haven’t forgotten about you.” People appreciate that. But the most important thing is being nice to people and taking care of people right as they walk in the door. That first impression is important in hospitality.
What’s the absolute best advice you can give to someone who wants to get into Raoul’s?
Get by the phone or on the Resy app at 8 a.m., 30 days out.
Raoul’s is open daily for dinner starting at 5 p.m. and serves brunch on the weekends starting at 11 a.m.
Kathleen Squires is an award-winning food and travel writer and documentary producer based in New York City. The documentary “Raoul’s: A Story” is in post-production and slated for release in 2023. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Follow Resy, too.