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Where to Get the WORST Service in Brooklyn? Jack the Horse Tavern » the strong buzz, by andrea strong
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“Where to Get the WORST Service in Brooklyn? Jack the Horse Tavern ”

A few years ago when I moved to Brooklyn Heights from Cobble Hill, I wrote about what I thought was a wonderful little restaurant in the fruit street section of the Heights. At the time, I was quite depressed with our culinary plight here in the Heights. Back in Cobble Hill, we were flush with options. On Smith Street we had Char No. 4, on Court Street, Watty & Meg, and further down, Buttermilk Channel, and on Henry Street, Henry Public and Hibino. In the Heights, we had bubbkas. Seriously. Not a place to eat, unless you count Five Guys as a dinner destination. Fine for lunch, but not really a place to unwind after a long day. (Thankfully Colonie is filling a void (and their new chef Brad McDonald is fantastic), but it's not really the Heights, it's Atlantic Avenue. We need good restaurants here, so if you are looking for a location, please, open one here!)

But then, after a movie at the Heights movie theater, Craig and I stumbled upon Jack the Horse Tavern. It had the charm of a little Cape Cod country inn, a great menu of American food, and a welcoming bar where terrific cocktails were mixed with care. Craig and I could stop in for a great burger and a beer, or a more culinarily advanced meal of braised short ribs with brussels sprouts in the winter or roasted halibut with spring peas and lemon in summer. There was a fine little charcuterie plate, and nice little pizzas, and a mac ‘n cheese that rocked the house. We became regulars. But now that’s all changed.  Jack the Horse Tavern is now one of my least favorite restaurants. In fact, after an encounter this weekend, it’s one I will never again visit. Breaking up is hard to do, but sometimes it’s got to be done.

The first sign that I needed to break up with JTH came during a dinner for my father-in-law’s 70th Birthday. My sister-in-law and her husband had flown in from Portland, and there were 9 of us at dinner. We were excited for a great evening. We had spoken to the chef and owner, Tim, and arranged to bring in our own birthday cake. When we arrived, Tim was nowhere to be found. He had said he would be there, and that he looked forward to it, but apparently he had taken the night off. Totally fine, but what happened without him watching over his flock was not fine at all.

After about a 20-minute walk in 105-degree heat from our place to the restaurant, we arrived, wilted and with a birthday cake that was about to slide apart. When we were seated, we asked the waitress if she would mind bringing it to the kitchen to be refrigerated. We explained that we had cleared it with the chef. 

She was not interested. She snarled at us, rolled her eyes, and tossed the cake box on the table next to ours. “I am going to give you the specials now,” she said, like a school marm to her class rowdy teens. I was perplexed. “We can wait on the specials,” I replied. “Would you mind bringing the cake to the fridge first? We’ve been walking in the heat and it’s about to fall apart.” “I said I was going to read you the specials, so here they are,” she replied, glaring at me. That was the first sign that something was up. We’d never had rude service at JTH before. And this was more than rude, it felt personal and mean. Why not just take the cake in the kitchen and do us a solid?

But this waitress was rare.

As the meal continued, she became more and more belligerent. When we ordered cocktails, she left the table mid-way through our order because one of us took more than one minute in deciding what to drink. Rather than wait, she stormed off, more eye rolling, too. Later on, we ordered several bottles of wine. They never arrived. Our apps were cleared, our entrees served, and still no wine. And our waitress had disappeared. Vanished. Poof! When I finally located her, we were almost through with our dinner. She was over from the bar, yuckin’ it up with the manager. I caught her eye and she approached the table as though I had ripped her from her grandmother’s deathbed in the last moments of her life. She looked at me as though I should have been pinned against a wall with thumbtacks.

“I was wondering if we could have the wine we ordered?” I asked, as sweetly as I could muster. “I am busy, you’ll get it,” was her response. I practically smacked her. My two-year old has better manners. We did get the wine, which she served with such spite I could barely drink it. We were finished with dinner by the time she got around to pouring it, but luckily my father-in-law didn’t mind and we just drank well into our dessert.

Speaking of dessert, when our cake was finally plated and served, our waitress asked if we needed anything else. We looked at the table and noticed there were no dessert forks set. My mother in law asked, “Could I have a fork, please?” The waitress responded: “You have a spoon, do you really need a fork?” Sorry, but really? This is how you respond to a guest's request for a fork to eat her cake with? You challenge her? Sorry, but that's just ridiculous. Unless my mother-in-law was asking for a plastic Sponge Bob Square Pants shovel with which to consumer her cake, produce the flatware!

Whatever this woman’s calling might be (dictator of a small landlocked country, perhaps?), clearly she was not made to be a waitress. There is sort of an obvious service component that’s built into the job that requires you to do as you are asked (within reason) and not vice versa. She spent the entire evening behaving as though we had barged into the dining room of her home and collared her into service. I was disgusted. Not to mention that there was not a busser to fill a water glass or clear a plate. I was about to pull a Larry David and do it myself. Wish I had.

It was a wonderful evening only because of the company. The restaurant did its best to make our experience as uncomfortable as possible. I should have ended the affair then, but I made the mistake of going back and giving them another try.
After seeing a movie the other night at the Heights theater, Jamie, Kiri and I stopped in for dinner. I was convinced that the service episode was just a fluke. The restaurant was busy, but not full. Here is the scene:

Me: Hi, do you have room for three for dinner?
Host (male, bearded, pale-faced, stoic): Do you have a reservation?”
Me: No, unfortunately, we don’t. Do you have any room for walk-ins?
Host: No.
Me: So there is no possibility of a table tonight?
Host: No.
Me: Do you think if we waited at the bar a table might open up?
Host: No.
Me (increasingly amazed that this man is employed in the hospitality business as he seems capable only of saying the word “No”): We can wait. We’re not in a rush.
Host: Well, it will be at least 30 minutes. PAUSE. Actually it will be more like 45 minutes to an hour.
Me (thinking, Could he be any less welcoming? Does he not realize that diners who actually eat in your restaurant not in someone else's are what keep you in business?): Goodbye.  

Restaurants need to be maintained. Just like a relationship, a car, a chef’s knife, a friendship, a plant, or a good pair of shoes. They need tending to and attention. The folks at Jack the Horse Tavern have stopped maintaining. At least with respect to hospitality and service, the place is a mess and now ranks among the worst restaurants I have ever been to. That includes greasy spoon pitstops on the side of the road in Nowhere, U.S.A.

How do you run a shop where servers and hosts seem to be openly encouraged to say “No” to guests? How do you keep a waitress who is openly hostile to tables? This is small neighborhood place that gets its lifeblood from word of mouth. In this economy you can’t afford to be rude, and in any case, in the restaurant business you just shouldn’t be.

If anyone out there is looking to see how not to run a restaurant, please pay a visit to the corner of Cranberry and Hicks and have a gander at the mess of service going on at Jack the Horse Tavern. It is truly a fine example of how to lose customers and alienate regulars. What a shame. They really had me for a while. But I’m done.

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