Jason Sheehan is gone -- he wrote his last review for Westword two years ago -- but certainly not forgotten in this town. He's mentioned in our Letters to the Editor column this week, and yesterday, his name popped up in an Eater Denver "The Gatekeeper" interview with Paul Attardi, partner and general manager man at Fruition, who gave this answer when asked, "Have you ever been offered bribes?"
The first month we opened up, one of the waiters was offered a bribe by Jason Sheehan, who was writing for Westword. The waiter was having a cigarette, and he didn't realize it was Jason Sheehan, but he was offered $50 for a table.
Did he get a table? No. He came in and asked me for a table afterwards, but he didn't have a reservation. People also beg on the phone all the time. We want to accommodate people the best we can, but if I have reservations, they're my first obligation. I mean, there are times where I will squeeze people in. Let me put it this way -- there are certain people who are phenomenal regulars, and if there's just two of them, we can squeeze them in. It's easy to squeeze a party of two in, but I can not squeeze in a party of four. There's no such thing.
The story (which also made Eater's national site) didn't ring true when I read it: I'd never seen Sheehan with cash, much less a fifty-dollar bill.
So I e-mailed Sheehan in Philadelphia, where he's now the food editor of Philadelphia Magazine after a year-long stint as restaurant reviewer at the Seattle Weekly, and he gave me this response:
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Awesome. Can I tell you how much I love the fact that I'm still getting press in Denver after being gone for two years? But anyway, no. I never did that. And here are a few reasons.
1) I never would've gone to the place in its first month. Much as I liked it, I am way too lazy to have gotten there so shortly after the opening.
2) I worked for an alternative newspaper. Anyone who thinks I would've had fifty bucks in my pocket has obviously never known an alternative newspaper journalist. Hell, I work for a fancy-pantsy magazine now and I STILL don't have fifty bucks in my pocket.
3) I know enough about restaurants to know that bribing some server out having a smoke isn't going to do me a fat lot of good. Not that I ever would, but if I WAS trying to bribe my way in, I'd at least have the dignity and native intelligence to try and grease the palm of someone who could actually help me. Like a dishwasher -- those dudes can make anything happen.
4) Also, if I had bribery on my mind, I certainly wouldn't have given my real name. I would've claimed to be some kind of super-celebrity -- like Abe Vigoda or Paul Tsongas. As a matter of fact, if Fruition were to check their books, I'm pretty sure I made at least one reservation there as Mr. Vigoda and was treated with the appropriate deference and charm.
5) Finally, I find it absolutely delightful that the house fell for some random schmoo claiming to be me and hope that the fella had a great night in my name -- wherever he ended up. Considering that most people who pretended to be me during my tenure in Denver were trying to put one over on the local Village Inns and Irish bars, I can only tip my hat to this imposter for having fine taste and the stones to punk someone as apparently gullible as Paul Attardi.
By the way, Fruition did win our Best New Restaurant award in the Best of Denver 2007, a few months after it opened. The period from March 2006 to March 2007 was a particularly dry one for new restaurants (unlike 2011), and it was the clear winner. And my pick, as I recall. No bribe needed to get in -- or for Fruition to win, for that matter.