As the newest spot in the endlessly buzzy Hotel Chelsea, Café Chelsea is quickly becoming one of the city’s toughest dinner reservations to snag. After gaining notoriety for their pillowy ravioles du Dauphiné and becoming the place to see and be seen by the fashion elite, covers have soared, and their Resy Notify list often exceeds more than 1,000 names.
It’s a chic spot that evokes New York’s eternal obsession with French restaurants, with lots of plush booths and banquettes, low lighting, gilded-age accents, and plenty of mirrors to watch yourself become part of the in-crowd.
In this edition of “The One Who Keeps the Book” we sat down with Hotel Chelsea’s director of guest experience, Courtney Kornegay, to talk about the best way to get a table, managing the “beautiful chaos” of the reservations book, and eating dinner after 10 p.m.
Note: This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.
Resy: How many seats do you have at Café Chelsea?
Kornegay: We have 150 inside in the main dining room. Then we have a patio that has about 40 seats, and a private dining room that seats 36.
When do your reservations drop on Resy?
Two weeks in advance at midnight.
How long until they’re all booked up?
Quickly! Very quickly these days. Typically, of course, all of the prime-time spots at 8 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. are gone right away, but everything else is booked within four or five days.
And has that been the case for the entire time you’ve been open?
No, not really. We’ve always been busy from the time we opened, but it really picked up about three or four weeks ago. We had an article written about us in the New York Post that basically doubled our numbers. We went from 200 or so covers to over 400 covers on a busy night.
What You Need to Know
Plan Ahead: Reservations drop two weeks in advance at midnight.
Walk on In: The bar is first-come, first-served, but most walk-in tables get snatched up quickly, so head over when they first open at 5 p.m.
The Layout: The main dining room seats 150. There’s also a patio that seats 40, and a private dining room with its own bar that seats 36.
Prime Time: 7 to 8:30 p.m.
Pro Tip: If the wait is longer than you’d hoped, grab a drink at the Hotel Chelsea’s Lobby Bar or El Quijote to pass the time.
Must-Order Dishes: Ravioles du Dauphiné, croquette de chèvre, crudo de thon, and all of the desserts.
The power of the press! Do you hold anything for walk-ins?
We do … but they go really quickly. When we open, they pretty much go away right away. We do have the bar area, which is first come, first served, so we hope that’s available. I’d recommend getting there either in the beginning of the day, around 5 p.m. when we open — our bar actually opens at 4:45 p.m. — or late at night around 10 p.m. or a little after if you want to do a walk-in.
Do you use the Resy Notify list?
We do! We have quite a few people who are on the list. The reservations team will go through and let them know when we have an opening.
How long does it usually get?
Oof. Last Saturday we were at 1,500 people, and on Friday I believe we had 1,100.
Wow. Well, I’d love to hear about your background. How did you end up in this role at Café Chelsea?
I’ve been in hospitality for about six-and-a-half years. I started with Tuxedo Hospitality, so Chinese Tuxedo, Peachy’s, The Tyger. I was with them for about four-and-a-half years, and I left there in 2022. I was at another restaurant for a short time, but then I came on board with Hotel Chelsea as the guest experience manager. I started mainly in the Lobby Bar. Now, I’m the director of guest experience, so I oversee all three doors: Café Chelsea, Lobby Bar, and El Quijote.
Is this level of demand typical for you, or something new?
I’ve worked at high-demand restaurants before, and I’ve done more than 300 covers a night in the past; I’m used to that, and I’m used to running the book when it’s like that. It’s really exciting to me. But this is a new level. This is the real deal.
I believe last Tuesday or the Tuesday before I ran the book at the door and girl, it’s intense. You have to be “on” the whole time. You have to be so alert. It’s basically like a Tetris game. You have to fit people where you can. We are definitely going to try to accommodate you; let’s say you come with five people when you had a reservation for four. We’re definitely going to try to make it work, but sometimes those things are very, very challenging. It’s chaos. But it’s beautiful chaos.
Absolutely. I’d love to hear what your ideal order would be, especially if you were someone who knew they might not have a shot at a reservation again for a while.
A lot of things. I love our croquettes; we have these goat cheese croquettes that come with honey and they’re delicious. I would do the tuna crudo next. You have to do the ravioli; if you’re not going to be here again for a while I would order two. Then, the black bass; I’m not a huge meat eater so I would go for that. Then, the lemon pasta; I had it two nights ago and it was divine. I would also do the mushroom dish, it’s so good. I think we have some of the best desserts in the city, so I would do the almond pear tart and the cognac ice cream, and the soufflé. Hopefully I would be with three or four other people because I don’t think I could do all of that by myself.
Yum. Is there a favorite table or a “best seat in the house,” in your opinion?
All those seats are my babies! I can’t pick a favorite. I do love the corner in the Grand Café [main dining room]; we have these four corner booths. We also have a table in the window as you come in, which is a really great table. Then we have two long booths in the café area that I really, really enjoy.
Very political of you to not choose favorites!
I think it depends on how you’re dining, right? Sometimes you go out and you want to be “in the vibe,” so I’d recommend the booth in the bar area so that you can see everyone that walks by. But if you’re trying to catch up with a longtime friend and you’re not trying to be distracted, the corner booths in the Grand Café are the best.
What’s your best tip for someone who wants to get a table?
Come early. If you can, I would come when we open and see what we have available if you’re looking for something a little later. While you wait, you can check out Lobby Bar or the bar at El Quijote. It makes it really easy, and the time flies by if you’re at one of our other venues having a drink or a small bite before dinner. Otherwise, I would come late at night. I think three or so years after the pandemic, people are starting to dine later. I’m personally a big fan of dining late; I’ll sometimes go to dinner at 10 p.m. I would say go to a show or a movie, and then come late-night for dinner.
Sounds great. Anything else you want to add?
The only other thing that I’m really enjoying is the space that we have for large groups. We have a private dining room that we call the Wine Room, and if you’re in the venue and you want to check it out, we’d love to show it to you if it’s not in use. There’s a bar off of the Wine Room, so if you’re planning a cute birthday party and you want it to be private, it’s amazing for that environment. It’s a really cool vibe there, as well.
Café Chelsea is open daily for breakfast from 7 a.m. until 11 a.m., for lunch and brunch from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m., and for dinner Sunday through Wednesday from 5 to 11 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to midnight.
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