A Family Affair

By | Mar 15, 2021 | No Comments

I started working at The Sea Grill at Rockefeller Center after a few restaurant stints elsewhere in the late 90s. And if there’s one thing about The Sea Grill—aside from its food, that made it so special—was that it was situated next to the ice skating rink where diners could sit and enjoy their meals while watching skaters make their rounds as well as viewing the magnificent tall Christmas tree, erected each year during the holidays, in all its vivid splendor. It was one of the most coveted tables during this time.

Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro

One night during the peak of the holiday season, in walks Robert De Niro unannounced with his then-wife and several of his children, including his twin boys and two of their nannies in tow. Of course, we were sold out, but we found him a table off to the side. However, after a while, his kids wanted to sit next to the glass so they could watch the skaters up close. So, De Niro hailed me over, pointed to the center table in the room, and asked if he could sit there. I told him that someone else had reserved it, and it just wasn’t possible. Well, this didn’t sit well with his kids or his wife, so he asked again, and I relented.

Now this table was smack in the middle of the restaurant. If you were to walk into The Sea Grill, that would be the first table you’d see. So, as diners were coming into the restaurant at their appointed times, they would see Robert De Niro facing them on his Motorola StarTAC mobile phone (which was all the rage at the time), as he was on some call while his kids were running amok in the restaurant clamoring to see the skaters while other diners were trying to have a peaceful meal. His kids were making all kinds of noises, especially his twins, who were whining throughout. I can’t tell you how annoying this was, particularly when other customers were paying lots of money to enjoy a special evening during the holidays, and all they see are these kids jumping up and down while De Niro is on the phone, probably oblivious on what is happening. Not even the nannies did anything to help. They seemed just as distracted and helpless as De Niro.

I took the initiative to go over to his table and ask if I could take his twin boys for a tour of the restaurant just to get them to quiet down, and he said, “That’s a great idea.” So, I grabbed the boys by their hands and walked them around and through the kitchen, finally stepping outside the side door into the ice skating rink where we could face De Niro from the other side of the glass. His twins banged on the glass to get their father and mother’s attention, which they did, and then I walked them back to their table, and they piped down enough for them to enjoy their meals. De Niro thanked me profusely and palmed me a $100 note. However, they sat at that table all night, which was reserved for other diners. So, we had to dance and improvise to accommodate our other reservations, which, if you know, the restaurant business is always a nerve-wracking experience.

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