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Joe's Seafood's Maitre D's Talk VIPs, Film Careers

Welcome back to The Gatekeepers, a feature in which we roam the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
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Billy Carter [Photo: R. Lopez]

Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab made a splash when it first opened in D.C. (with a splashy opening party to match). The Miami-based restaurant chain settled up in a former bank building located a stone's throw from the White House. Since, the restaurant has played host to its powerful neighbors from time to time. Even though Joe's has welcomed plenty of the town's VIPs, maitre d's Michael Flanagan and Bill Carter welcome anyone and everyone to the restaurant. The gentleman wearing the green bow tie and the crab pin will be able to take care of anyone who walks in the door. On busier nights, patience may be required for the dining room, but thirsty and hungry tourists and locals alike should be able to find a seat by the bar.

How did you end up at Joe's?
MF: I was a manager at Morton's in Georgetown. Prior to that, I was doing some background acting. I was contemplating getting out of the restaurant business, but as you know, once you get into the restaurant business, you never get out. I did eleven or twelve movies, including in the recent Hunger Games: Catching Fire. I was a part of President Snow's cabinet. You just see me applauding. And I had a scene with Philip Seymour Hoffman, but of course that was cut out of the movie. And We're The Millers with Jennifer Aniston where I was a patron at a bar.
BC: I was at Prime Rib on K Street for 34 years. Then I started my own place, but that didn't go too well. I saw something in the [Washington] Business Journal about Joe's coming. I went down to Joe's to see if it was a good fit. I gave it a shot, and I got lucky.

What attracted you to Joe's?
MF: I had a restaurant in South Florida for 10 years and lived there for 20 years. And we loved Joe's. We loved everything about it. Miami. South Beach. And the stone crabs. I was excited when they came to DC. I always wanted to be a maitre d' at Joe's even when I had my own restaurant.

What was opening night like?
MF: We had 1,500 people. And everyone said it was the best restaurant opening party they had ever been to. And these guys would come back weeks later and say, "Do you remember me from opening night?" And I'd have to be honest as say, "I think so, but there were so many people here." I try to give everyone my card, and I always tell people my nickname growing up Connecticut was "Flan" short of "Flanagan". So that's the calling card. Just ask for Flan.
BC: The opening party was a huge success. Everyone was there and everybody wanted to be there. The restaurant was packed with an amazing group of people. It really was a great group of people that first night.

When's the busiest time at Joe's?
MF: Even when we're busy, we never turn anyone away. We take walk-ins in the lounge, and there may be a bit of a wait, but it usually goes pretty quickly. Sometimes people make mistakes with the reservations, but we make sure no one falls between the cracks.
BC: Saturday night is the busiest night. At Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., without a reservation, there could be a wait for a table in the dining room. But there are lounge options and also a back bar at Joe's. And if you're willing to wait, have a drink at the bar. We're willing to accommodate everyone that comes here.

What kinds of people are coming to Joe's in DC? Do you find it to be more locals, more tourists or a mix?
MF: We get a lot of tourists on the weekends. I've noticed many of the businessmen and politicians on Monday through Thursday. But yeah, there are a lot of tourists. You know, they'll walk in with their sneakers and see us with our tuxedos and see the gorgeousness of the restaurant and they'll say we're sorry for not dressing up. And I'll say that we dress up so you don't have to.
BC: I find that we have about half and half of locals and tourists every night. When people are in town, they seek us out. There are a lot of travelers from all over the world, but we also see a lot of locals.

Is Joe's a big destination for engagements and other special events?
MF: We've had lots of engagements happen here. We've had big parties upstairs and lots of special events happen here. We're only four months old, but it's just incredible with the reception we've gotten.

What kinds of events have there been here?
MF: Well, you know the First Lady has been here.

Well, you are next door to the White House.
MF: Yeah, I tell people it's a five iron to the White House. And of course, professional athletes, news media, I've seen just about everyone. I've been in this town for a while, so the politicians, the lobbyists, you name it, they come to Joe's.

How does Joe's in Miami differ from this one in DC?
MF: Miami is a haven for people from all over the world. A lot of people know that Miami is the mecca of stone crabs, so to speak. Some people aren't really
BC: The Miami location was such an experience, but it's been a while since I was there. I know down there, they don't take reservations, so people just hang out with each other. So at the Miami one, there seemed to be more hanging out. At the same time, we're a unique restaurant, so we're trying to be our own Joe's. But at the same time carry on the legacy of Joe's in Miami.

When you aren't working the front desk and making sure everything is handled, what do you like to eat at Joe's?
MF: I actually love seafood. I love to fish. I love deep sea fishing. But everything here intrigues me. For lunch, I have the roasted turkey sandwich almost everyday. But our steaks are really, really just great steaks. And the seafood is as fresh as it could possibly be. The seafood salad I could eat seven days a week. And some will order fried chicken as a side dish, believe it or not. The kitchen is pretty amazing here.
BC: The first thing I think of is the pie. I've enjoyed all of them. Right now, we have the blueberry pie. And the fried chicken. You can't go wrong with fried chicken and pie.

Where is the secret entrance?
MF and BC: If I told you, it wouldn't be secret.

Who would you like to see to come into Joe's?
MF: Well, anyone from the White House is special. It's a magical place no matter who's in it. But being an actor myself, I've always admired Kevin Spacey. And he's not too far.
BC: President Obama. We would love to have him. Since he's from Chicago, and we have a Joe's in Chicago, I feel like he would be really comfortable here.
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Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab

750 15th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 202 489 0140

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