Young, Wild, and Waiting Tables

Stephanie Danler's novel, "Sweetbitter," tells the story of a New York City transplant's baptism by (kitchen) fire—and it already has everyone talking.

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For many people who trade their dull hometowns for the "thrill" of living in New York City, their first job—whether it be an unpaid internship or a gig waiting tables at one of Manhattan's most well-regarded restaurants—often sets the stage for how their life in New York City is really going to be.

Danny Meyer in front of what would become Union Square Cafe, 1986. Photograph courtesy of Union Square Hospitality Group
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The job Stephanie Danler scored at the now-shuttered Union Square Cafe (the restaurant that made Danny Meyer a culinary star) ushered her into the unpredictable, dramatic, fast-paced hospitality industry—and into the lives of the eccentric people who work in it.

First-time author and former waitress, Stephanie Danler.
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The great news for Danler is that she got a killer novel out of it. "When the idea for Sweetbitter first came to me, I wrote a 25-page short story. I had just started graduate school. It began with the same first sentence and the same last sentence that it still has," she says. "It wasn't a novel yet, but it came to me all in one piece. And throughout the process, so many times people suggested that I change certain things, but I was positive about the beginning. And I was positive about the ending—getting there was the hard part."

Danler's novel is a worthy addition to the rich literary tradition of writing about coming of age in New York City and, like the best of these novels, it captures the spirit of a generation in the process. Fans of books like Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City and Rona Jaffe's The Best of Everything, will not, as it were, go home hungry.

Since Union Square Cafe is no longer, we met Danler at Buvette, another one of the influential restaurants she worked in, to hear her read from the opening page of Sweetbitter. Watch and listen below!

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler (Knopf), $25,

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