In the late ’80s and early ’90s, an unmarked graffiti-covered restaurant called 150 Wooster made a name for itself by luring, and only greeting, the most rich and famous. Frequenters like Paul Simon and Elizabeth Taylor made the restaurant an instant staple of New York elitism, one where successful artists dined and struggling artists waited on the tables inside. In 1990, we interviewed a waitress at the then-described “world’s most glamorous restaurant,” a 23-year-old Julianna Margulies.
Twenty six years later, Margulies has received a Golden Globe, three Emmy Awards, and a Television Critics Association Award. Although she is now most notably known as Alicia Florrick on CBS’s The Good Wife, Margulies first made a name for herself in 1994 as Nurse Carol Hathaway on ER. Prior to ER, she appeared in small parts on shows like Law & Order, and after, she found herself in roles on series such as The Misfits of Avalon, Scrubs, and The Sopranos.
Following the announcement last month that this spring’s seventh season of The Good Wife would be its last, we decided to look back on Margulies’s Hollywood trajectory, one that began on Wooster Street between Prince and Houston. —Sidney Butler
Confessions of a Waitress at the World’s Most Glamorous Restaurant By Lynn Geller
“Waiting” implies a state of suspended animation. And for many waiters and waitresses, that is the case. While getting a job in some restaurants is practically an audition in itself, once landed it can be an eventful layover until that film part, book deal, or ticket to Broadway arrives. Twenty-three-year-old Julianna Margulies, a recent graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, works at 150 Wooster. Run by Nessia Pope, Sylvia Martins, and Brian McNally, who has also developed Indochine, Canal Bar, and Jerry’s, 150 is the restuarant of the moment. Working four nights a week not only pays the rent but leaves Margulies time for auditions and acting classes.
LYNN GELLER: Is this your first waiting job?
JULIANNA MARGULIES: No, I’ve been working as a waitress every summer since I was 17. My last job was at the River Café in Brooklyn, which was a nightmare. I was on deck, and we had to wear monkey suits and bow ties. It was sweaty and hot and the customers were all tourists, so they didn’t tip. I’d just graduated from college and had post-school depression, and one day I broke out in hives all over my body from nerves.
GELLER: What did you do about all this?
MARGULIES: I quit my job, and that helped, and I went to acupuncturists who gave me a treatment for tension.
GELLER: Do you have waitress nightmares?
MARGULIES: I’ve had nightmares about people grabbing me. I loved being a bartender because no one could touch me. A lot of Europeans who can’t speak English just grab you. In my nightmares, I’m yelling, “I’m only human!”
GELLER: Is most of the staff actors?
MARGULIES: Most of them are. There’s one photographer who’s starting to get work, and an actress who’s beginning to get jobs. I feel like I went from a liberal arts school to a liberal arts job.
GELLER: One thing the waiters and waitresses have in common is that they’re all beautiful.
MARGULIES: Brian [McNally] is very into “the look.” You can be a great waitress, but it you don’t have “the look,” that’s it.
GELLER: Is there a dress code for the staff?
MARGULIES: Anything goes, as long as it’s not jeans and sneakers. You wear your own clothes, the tighter the better. It improves the tips. People think we all have to wear black and wear red lipstick, but black is just easy to keep clean. The dressiest any of us get is a miniskirt.
GELLER: Tight clothes and short skirts inspire some male tippers, but have you ever had to deal with a really serious masher?
MARGULIES: No, but some guy was feeling my leg once while I was taking an order. I got really offended and told Brian that I was going to slap the guy. Brian said, “If anyone touches you, I give you permission to slap him.”
GELLER: Have you met any stars who seem human?
MARGULIES: One of the greatest and most understated celebrities was Dustin Hoffman. It’s very loud at 150, so sometimes I lean over to take orders. He showed me the proper way to stand and seemed genuinely interested in how I was performing this task—he stood up and said, “Don’t lean over the table. Do you want to know what your back is going to look like?” One of the hard things with celebrities is trying to protect their privacy. That night a big woman in red was making a beeline for Dustin Hoffman and I was told, “Julianna, drop everything and blockade her.”
GELLER: Hasn’t anyone made you feel star-struck?
MARGULIES: Sometimes I do get star struck. Richard Gere made me star struck. He’s just a beautiful man, with that silver hair, and I just went woozy at the knees bringing him his caf cappuccino. Oliver Stone—he’s a man I’d like to know. And you know who came in and mesmerized me? Paloma Picasso. I love beauty and I love the women who walk in and don’t have to do anything for the attention. She was wearing black velvet. My girlfriend and I were looking at her back and saying, “You’re gorgeous without even turning around.” Raquel Welch floored me—just her skin alone. You never expect people to look that way in real life.
GELLER: Which stars get the most attention?
MARGULIES: Well, when Elizabeth Taylor came in the restaurant it got so quiet; it was very unnerving. Later, the customers in my station were asking, “What did she eat?” “Did she eat a lot?” I felt like saying, “Leave her alone.” Sometimes I think the people who are the hardest to wait on are the non-stars, because they’re floored by the stars. But I believe in giving everyone the same service; everyone pays the same prices and leaves the same tips. The bottom line is that 150 is a great lace for an actress who’s out there everyday struggling and doing classes and working really hard. Sometimes Brian will point to a table and say, ‘I knew them when they were struggling, and look at them now.’ It’s an inspiration. I know I’m not going to be a waitress forever.
THIS INTEVIEW ORIGINALLY RAN IN THE FEBRUARY 1990 ISSUE OF INTERVIEW.
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