Here's Calvin Trillin's "isn't New York full of hilarious eccentrics" take on Shopsin's. And here's an email a friend sent over the weekend after he heard I was interested in the restaurant:
When a friend moved to L.A. for three months, he asked me to housesit his place in the West Village. Or, rather, he allowed me to house-sit because I actually didn't have a place to live that year. I had bounced around cat-sitting here for a few months, cat-sitting there for a few months.
He lived on Carmine Street, right next to Shopsin's. I literally had to walk downstairs, take a left, and walk 10 feet. So, one day, my father decided to drop by and take me out to brunch. It's not something he normally did, but he had a son who lived in the Village, so he clamped down and did it.
We agreed on Shopsin's. I told him while we waited in the line that always appeared on weekends that Shopsin's was a special place. They had a very large menu. They didn't abide talking on cell phones and the wait staff was pretty ornery. He seemed -- seemed -- to understand this.
The two of us are finally allowed entrance. I say it this way because the waiters would lock the door between letting people in. The restaurant was full. A table would get up to go. A new table would be seated, and the door would be locked. My father and I get in and we're seated at this one table away from the main dining room. I didn't mind because I was starving. But for some reason my father thought it wasn't good enough for him. So he asked, nicely, "Hey, is there a way we could get a table over there?"
The waiter turned to him and said, "Hey, listen, you see that line of people out there? They all want to eat in here. So if you don't want to sit here, then get the fuck out and I'll let one of them take the table.
My father's a correction officer. A prison guard. He worked on Riker's Island for 20 years, so he's not used to taking shit. Of course, then, he responded, "What the fuck? I was just asking a question. You don't have to be an asshole.
I literally -- literally -- pulled my hat down over my eyes and tried to calm the situation down. It didn't work.
"Did you just call me an asshole."
"Yeah, you're being an asshole. If you can't seat us over there, that's fine. I was just asking a question.
"You know what, fuck you."
"Fuck me? Fuck you! This is how you treat your customers, motherfucker?
And on and on. The waiter had the last word. "Get the fuck out of my place now. Get the FUCK out." He unlocked the door. I slunk out. My father strutted out, and we ended up going to some shitty breakfast place down the block. He was stunned that I was angry at him, that I wasn't defending him against the asshole waiter. All I could say was, "Dad, I told you the staff was pretty ornery. . ."
Over the next few months, I only went one other time. I was afraid they'd recognize me and kick me out again. So I waited until I had a good amount of facial hair, until I was so flu-ridden that I was sweaty and dumpy and not looking at all like myself. Then I went back. And the food was delicious.
I fucking hate the Shopsin family.