This is the Gatekeepers, in which Eater meets the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite hard-to-get tables.
Thanks to its city-central location next door to the hipster haven Ace Hotel, Clyde Common boasts a boisterous dining room all hours of the day: during lunch, dinner, and especially late-night, as cocktail aficionados flock to the spot's famous bar. Eater chatted with Clyde's general manager Claire Benson about famous hotel guests, favorite local food carts, and serving Riesling with ice cubes (only when asked, of course).
Let's start with the usual question: It's 8pm on a Saturday. What's the wait for a table?
It's really anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes... We always encourage you to come by, because we only take a couple of reservations per night — during the week, Sunday through Thursday, we take reservations [for parties] from six to 22 [people]. Friday and Saturdays, it's [parties of] six to 12. So for smaller parties, it's very rare to see anything above a 45-minute wait.
What about the bar? While other GMs can offer waiting guests a seat at the bar for example, your bar is always just as packed. So if guests can't get a seat at the restaurant, or a seat at the bar...
The great thing about our location is that we have a lot of incredible options — the beauty of our block is that we have the Ace lobby available next door, and Stumptown, of course. One thing that people don't always know is that you can order drinks and bar snacks from the bar and take them next door into the lobby. Which is a great thing to have available... those guys [in the Ace] have comfy couches. So that's definitely a great option. And it's a great neighborhood for restaurants — we luckily have Gruner nearby, Little Bird down the street, Departure not too far away — there are plenty of friends that I can recommend without hesitation if the wait's longer than expected.
Tell me about Clyde's communal seating situation. Have people ever walked in unaware that was the deal, gotten freaked out, and left?:
Certainly yes, that has happened. It really is this great game of Tetris, but there's a lot of versatility with our seating. We definitely have people who are nervous. Portlanders are used to communal seating and know how that works, but we see a lot of out-of-towners, who are sometimes a little bit confused. ... But I think [communal seating is] one of the most special and exiting things about the restaurant, watching people sit next to complete strangers and strike up a conversation, sharing food with people they met 20 minutes ago — really connecting. Which is really fun.
What's it like being a restaurant next to a hotel like the Ace? I imagine there are lots of out-of-towners — including celebrities.
We see a lot of celebrities, especially with the Ace being so of-the-moment. They're doing something special and different — they attract a lot of young bands, definitely a lot of familiar faces. We see an incredibly diverse demographic. Between the Ace, being downtown a block of Powell's, we get a lot of visitors. But we have a lot of regulars as well; we're certainly a go-to lunch spot for a lot of folks in the business community. Back to the celebrities: Can you name-drop? [Laughs] The most recent — and the most flustered I've ever seen our staff — was when Jared Leto came in. I'm pretty sure that in the 30-second walk from the office downstairs to the main dining room, I had five seperate people let me know he was here. All the girls on staff were very excited. We also joke that we're collecting the cast of Fargo. Between Frances McDormand and Steve Buscemi, that's one of my favorites. Oh, and early on at my time at Clyde, David Byrne was a huge one. Really, really exciting — I was afraid that I was going to have to resuscitate one of our servers.
You mentioned regulars — tell us about your favorite recurring faces.
We're really excited, always, to see friends from other restaurants. I have a special place in my heart for — we have a couple younger guys who will come in by themselves; one gentleman in particular is very dapper, he's incredibly sweet and very excited to try whatever the newest thing on the menu is. We have a very sweet couple with the most outstanding eyewear — they live in an apartment in the Pearl you can actually see from the windows at Clyde. There are plenty of folks that we see time and time again, and they are the people we are most excited to see. It's really an honor to have people come back time and time again.
What are some crazy requests that you've gotten from guests?
One thing I've learned: If someone begins their request with — and this happens frequently — "This is probably the craziest thing you've ever heard," I've learned that it is very, very mild. If they've processed it, it's not that bad or unexpected. In the restaurant industry, it's mostly things that have to do with dietary restrictions. One thing we get frequently is asking to have the head removed from the whole trout — I forget that people don't necessarily want to stare into the eyes of their dinner. We did have someone who was fasting one time, who asked us to make the classic maple-lemon-cayenne water for them. Which I suppose is like any specialty cocktail that someone would order. But frankly, I think requests fall under the category of hospitality, and there are things we are certainly happy to oblige that we may not necessarily recommend — like popping a couple of ice cubes in your Riesling. But if that's how you like to drink your wine, we are happy to oblige.
What are your favorite things on the menu here?
The fideos will always be one of my favorites. I really like our housemade pastas; they've been changing up a little bit recently, but we have a really beautiful parpadelle with leeks and truffle oil right now... I also have to say I'm a sucker for our wings.
What about places you're eating when not at work? Any neighborhood lunch favorites?
I do have one very, very favorite food cart in the area — Huong's, which is this little green food cart on 10th between Washington and Alder. Everything I've had there has been so good — they do really nice salad bowls that are the ultimate pre-shift food. They're really fresh, super filling but very heavy; they're the ultimate power food. I'm pretty sure that on any given day, our staff is responsible for about half of Huong's allotment. We love her.
And finally, what's the most important Gatekeeper tool?
I would say empathy and warmth. Those two, in combination with one another — as well as having a really solid team — are crucial. We have a really dedicated, awesome group of individuals who honestly care and love their food, hospitality, spirits, and wine. We have a team who's excited about innovation, new products, interpretations, and that is absolutely key — approaching each day with excitement. Food and food service is incredibly complex and it's the absolute most basic thing. Everybody needs to eat. And ultimately, I think maintaining that perspective and that warmth, being excited about what you're doing is the best thing ever. It makes it incredibly fun.
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