17 ways to be an NYC insider

Get into an opera's opening-night gala

Unless an opening is attended by Obama-level celebrities, it's pretty easy to sneak into a pre- or postshow reception. Simply buy a cheap ticket to the opera itself and attend in formal clothes. City Opera's affairs are normally held on the theater's first ring; the Met's are on the Grand Tier. Take advantage of the usual hubbub by slipping past the keeper of the guest list: If you're dressed the part, it's unlikely they'll stop you. Or, if you feel weird about crashing, you can go the honest route and get in touch with development and special-events departments, which can always do with an extra set of hands. E-mail them, offering your services for the night, and you may have a legitimate in.

Hang out with theater stars after the show

Aside from the old reliable Angus McIndoe (258 W 44th St between Seventh and Eighth Aves; 212-221-9222, angusmcindoe.com), where Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick are investors and regulars, your best bet is Bar Centrale (324 W 46th St between Eighth and Ninth Aves, second floor; 212-581-3130): Jude Law was there regularly during Hamlet, and other spottings have included God of Carnage's Jeff Daniels. If you'd rather stalk singers, cast members of Rock of Ages, Lion King, Memphis and Billy Elliot frequent Glass House Tavern (252 W 47th St between Broadway and Eighth Ave; 212-730-4800, glasshousetavern.com). And while sightings can be hit-and-miss at the Rum House (Edison Hotel, 228 W 47th St between Broadway and Eighth Ave; 212-869-3005), longtime bartender Patty Marchesi says that she's seen quite a few from the nearby Barrymore Theatre—including Christian Slater—get up and sing with organ player Karen Brown (who performs Tue--Sat 9pm--1:30am).

Eat better at sushi joints

You're likely to get the highest-grade fish if you request it unadulterated, in the form of simple sushi or sashimi. Many sushi restaurants mask less-than-fresh stock by putting it in overpriced "special" rolls. "I've witnessed the tricks some places use to unload lower-quality or older fish at fancy prices," explains Trevor Corson, author of The Story of Sushi. "That generally happens via all those rolls filled with chili pepper, wasabi and mayonnaise, and of course anything that's deep-fried." If you want more details on ordering like an expert, Corson hosts a weekly sushi class at Jewel Bako (239 E 5th St between Second and Third Aves; Mon 6:30pm when a minimum of six people sign up, $105 includes a full meal and the tutorial; sushiconcierge.com).

Nab a table when no one else can

1. Get through to a human
When calling Babbo (110 Waverly Pl between MacDougal St and Sixth Ave; 212- 777-0303, babbonyc.com), aspiring diners usually encounter the dreaded drone of the busy signal or a fuzzy recording. How to avoid this? Call the confirmation line 212-353-8064 instead of the reservation line: According to one anonymous former employee, the hospitality crew will drop everything to answer the confirmation line, since it's meant for people who have already scored a table. Asking for a reservation from here takes some deception: "I had this number in my phone since I last ate at your restaurant; I didn't realize it was wrong" is standard. From the receiving end of your illicit request will likely come something like: "Please hold. I'll have to check with the reservationist, which is a different person." (It's not.) This method won't guarantee you a table in the hot window of 5:30 to 10pm (especially now that we've tattled), but it could get you one more quickly than you probably deserve.

2. Show up in the flesh
"We leave about 30 percent of our tables open for walk-ins any night of the week," says chef Andrew Carmellini of his Tribeca It destination, Locanda Verde (377 Greenwich St at North Moore St; 212-925-3797, locandaverdenyc.com). "Most of our reservations are made for the 7:30-to-9pm range," he adds. Even at no-reservations hot spots like Motorino (319 Graham Ave at Devoe St, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-599-8899, motorinopizza.com) and Joseph Leonard (170 Waverly Pl at Christopher St; 646-429-8383, josephleonard.com), you can pretty much get in if you show up by 6pm the day of.

While The Spotted Pig (314 W 11th St at Greenwich St; 212-620-0393, thespottedpig.com) is more of a crapshoot, several staffers agree that the best way to avoid a long wait during the dinner rush (8--10pm) is to arrive as close to 5:30pm as possible and leave your name and number on a list with the host. If you're lucky, you'll get called in to dine between the civilized hours of 7:30 and 8:30. And, as you might expect, two-tops are seated faster than larger groups.

3. Time it right
If you do have a specific date or time in mind, know the exact earliest time you can call: For Babbo, it's one month in advance to the numerical date at 10am; for Maialino (2 Lexington Ave between 21st and 22nd Sts; 212-777-2410, maialinonyc.com), it's 28 days out at 9:30am; for Momofuku Ko (163 First Ave between 10th and 11th Sts; 212-500-0831, momofuku.com/ko), log on to its site seven days out at 10am...and say your prayers.

Reduce your parking ticket sans court date

Here's one for car owners who include parking ticket fines in their monthly budgets. Since 2005, the city has been discreetly offering reductions of up to $25 for most parking-violation fines. Simply request a hearing—online (nycserv.nyc.gov), by mail or in person—and the city will likely offer you a lesser fine in exchange for agreeing to forgo it. The goal behind the settlement program was to increase the speediness and efficiency of the hearing system (the fewer people waiting for hearings, the better), but clearly it's a win-win situation. "Stand your ground and request a hearing no matter what," says City Council member Vincent Gentile. "Chances are the Department of Finance will offer you a reduced fine, and you'll never even have to visit a court."


Whether you want to raise money for a cause or just show off your muddling skills, there are a few places that will let you pour the drinks yourself for a night. At The Black Sheep (583 Third Ave between 38th and 39th Sts; 212-599-3476, blacksheepnyc.com; call and ask to speak to Sean to sign up for a Thursday or Friday night shift), you can take over the upstairs room, assuming you can coerce 20-plus friends to stop by. Novices need not worry; expectations are low for guest tenders. "It's almost better if you don't have experience. You'll end up having more of a laugh," says Sam Bates, manager of Fiddlesticks (56 Greenwich Ave between Sixth and Seventh Aves; 212-463-0516, e-mail info@fiddlesticksnyc.com to sign up for a Wednesday or Thursday night shift). If you're really worried your skills aren't up to snuff, try tending at Town Tavern (134 W 3rd St between MacDougal St and Sixth Ave; 212-253-6955, towntavernnyc.com), where they'll train you a week before your big moment. Guest shifts last two to four hours, and you'll take home a share of the tips.


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