When the subterranean restaurant and cocktail lounge Hotel Griffou opened in 2009, it made a splash with celebrity guests like Kanye West, and a less-than favorable review in the New York Times, which described the Greenwich Village hotspot as "wildly inconsistent." We naturally assumed the owners—veterans of the Waverly Inn, Freemans and La Esquina—were a bunch of douchey famewhores who only cared about seeing their establishment's name in Page Six. But on the contrary, the guys who run the place (Larry Poston, Jr., Johnny Swet, and Jonathan Hettinger) are actually friendly blokes who want to give every customer the star treatment. The master of this is Poston, Jr., a charming raconteur who came up through the Keith McNally ranks before taking over the post of maitre d' at the Waverly Inn. We recently sat down with Poston, Jr. at Hotel Griffou to talk about how his baby (which is quite beautiful) has grown since 2009, the history of the place (the building dates back to the mid-19th century), and his strange celebrity encounters while working at the Chateau Marmont.

The restaurant has a new chef, David Santos, who is turning out food that is much better than it needs to be; his Portuguese-inspired cuisine might be best discovered at the restaurant's Sunday brunch, where you'll find such menu options as Carne Alentejana (Pork and Clams) $15, Rissois de Camarão (Shrimp Turnovers) $10, Escabeche de Sardinhas (Sardine Salad) $12.

You have a new chef, David Santos. Why him? I'm gonna be completely honest. In the beginning we got some negative press about our food. And we loved our chef, so I'm not going to say anything negative about him; he's a wonderful guy and talented chef, but I think the type of audience we brought in to fill up the space didn't necessarily go along with his style of cuisine, his style of cooking. These are the trials and tribulations and obstacles you traverse in the beginning process of opening a restaurant. It was all very mutual, actually; he got a wonderful gig, I must say, the same amount of money, less hours, doing a private chef gig for a hedge fund person so we can't top that.

So we ventured out to find a new chef that fit this space and the type of people we brought in, which I don't know what that is really—cool New Yorkers, downtown, who like to go out with food and good space and good drinks? So, honestly, being in the industry so long you start talking to people, "You know anyone interested?" And it was literally through a friend that Johnny and I were working with at the JIMMY space at the James Hotel that introduced us to this one chef. We tried him, he was great, he was ready to come on board...but then David Chang gave him a great position and he's over with David Chang! But the same chef that's now at DB Kitchen mentioned Chef Santos and set up an introduction. His personality, right away, was what fit the group, the partners.

Which is what? Professional but relaxed. There's always the rule book and then there's always that exception to go outside the rules. So the same with cooking. There's always what you want to do but then, at the end of the day, the guest decides what they want and so you have to make those concessions.

Has he made a dish that surprised you, that when he told you about it you had your doubts but when you tasted it you liked it? Yes. The Lamb Tartare. That didn't sound right to me, it just didn't go! I was accustomed to traditional steak tartare but the lamb tartare was an interesting flavor and I said, "I'm not so sure." He presented it with some fried pita...delicious.

So how would you describe his cuisine? Well, it's constantly changing so I guess the first thing would be fresh, seasonal. He always likes to find out what the freshest ingredients of the market are. And then he's very passionate about cooking so it's a love. I would say that. And that's how he describes it. He says food is about family and so when you cook you're ready to bring it to family. That sounded good to me.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, how you came to be involved with this and what your background is? I started in the dining industry as a dish washer in Denny's in North Carolina. For two days. [Laughs] I was sixteen. And then I moved up here and one of my first restaurant jobs was a place called Coconut Grill, which was a Steve Hansen restaurant on the Upper East Side. I graduated as an actor, studied theater, and it just goes hand in hand. Theater and restaurants. Then people took notice I was kind of good at what I was doing. Keith McNally moved me up and I started getting into restaurant management. And here I am.

Where were you with Keith McNally? I started there as a waiter at Pastis in 1999, right when it opened. Then I left there and moved out to LA for a year and worked at the Chateau Marmont, as a pool boy, for three months of the summer. Then I moved back to New York and Keith took me back as a server at Pastis and then I was asked to become a maitre d'.

That must have been a hell of a summer as the pool boy. It was a hell of a summer. I got to see some things I can't even tell you about because I'm sure someone would chase me with a lawsuit and I'm not ready for that!

Tell me one of them. Okay, there was a particular actor, let's just say he's from the film The Green Mile, I'll leave it at that. I brought some room service to his room where he and his female companion were there in their robes. And I walk in, there's a huge TV playing some of the strangest porn I've ever seen in my life. And I was asked to come in and sit down and have some of their grapes and cheese and watch it with them. Because it was something I've never seen before, this particular kind of porn, I stayed and watched.

What was unique about the porn? Well, first I think they were...I guess they were contortionists that they decided to move on to other things. But nevertheless they were also fashion designers too because what they were wearing was very...interesting. But it was serious acting too, it was just very compelling, it was very interesting, I have to say.

Then you're back in New York and ended up at the Waverly Inn. Yes. So funny story. I'd been at Pastis for 6 years and I was getting to that place where I wanted to change my life. I was going to therapy and trying to get in touch with all these things. And it just became the time to make a shift. I told them, "I think I'm gonna give my notice." I'd been there for 6 years. I had not secured another job, which is stupid in New York City. You never leave a job in New York City without having some options. I gave my notice, I gave 3 weeks. I love Keith McNally; he said, "Well if it's acting you want to do, you want to shift your schedule around, we'll pay you and do less work and I would just like for you to stay." I said, it's not even about that and I thank you for that, but it's really about me just trying to move on now and grow and see what else I can do. I actually worked at Town for a month—I've been all over the place—for one month. And that, for whatever reason, the midtown hotel location didn't feel like my aesthetic or enjoyment. So my partner now here, Johnny Swet, introduced me to this gentleman at the Waverly, who introduced me to Graydon Carter, who said I seemed a little young for the part. As far as the maitre d' is concerned they were looking for an older gentleman, but I went back the next day with a suit and Graydon said, "You clean up real well. Okay, we'll give it a shot." And I was there for two years and I don't think I've seen a restaurant as hot in my life. I literally said to one person, "If the Waverly was to blow up tonight it would be the loss of civilization as we know it."

So then you left to do this project? Well, now that's the tricky part. What happens in restaurants that everyone knows but no one likes to talk about it is that if you're in your work and you're really good at it and you see how it's done you start thinking to yourself, "Oh I could do this. I see how this is working. I could give it a shot." But you can't do it while you're working at someone else's place because you can impede on their clientele or oversell yourself and that's not fair to them either, and I get that. So I just started talking ideas with my other partner until the time came to make that move. It was also a good way to build relationships with people, but I'd know a lot of them since Pastis, but it was cementing those relationships. "Don't leave the Waverly or Pastis but come check me out."

How do you think this place compares, not in terms of what's better or what's worse, but how Pastis and Waverly Inn influenced you and how did this evolve into that? The biggest thing... there's a thing about Pastis or Keith's restaurants and Graydon's restaurant that I love; it's very much about the guest. As soon as they walk in the door, it's just very, very about the guest. There's this thing, you're talking with someone at the podium, as soon as a guest enters you're welcoming. "Hi, how are you doing?" Automatically you're on with this person, we're here to serve you. I don't care if you're the general manager, the owner, the waiter...we're here for you. And I just got that immediately at Keith's restaurants and Graydon's. And Graydon was very much about the social aspect of everyone sitting where they need to sit to have a good time, which was beautiful too. It was like the canvas and you painted it really well. So I wanted to bring that, that's really my forte. I like to talk to the people, I like to sit, drink their beer, drink their wine, drink their champagne, and get to know them. I enjoy that, I do.

This place used to be the famous Marylou's. Where did the name Hotel Griffou come from? This place here has a lot of great history; it was Marylou's back in the day and people remind themselves of the debauched nights and they remember that so they come in and have a good time. Oddly enough we were looking at names, I'll tell you some of the stupid names we thought of: The Aristocrat, Little Brown Bear, because we found out in the history that someone tied a brown bear in the back. They had a pet bear, this was in the early 1900s. So those were two of the stupid names. Have you ever seen that documentary about that joke, The Aristocrats? I never saw the film, so that didn't sound appealing for a dining place.

And then a neighbor told us that this place used to be a boarding house in the late 1800s and we did some Googling and artifact checking and it was actually called Hotel Griffou from 1870 to roughly early 1900s. It was a boarding house. It had a lot of artists and bohemian people, writers and musicians who came through. It was owned by this woman Madame Marie Griffou who is this French woman who moved over here, actually freed some Cuban slaves and had them work for her. She actually married, or had a relationship with, her Cuban maitre d'. We actually got an original menu from that time, too. And then after that, in the '50s, it was a glamorous club. And then the last, most famous, reincarnation was Marylou's. Now I wasn't in the city when Marylou was here, although I've heard these amazing stories about the great actors with their drug deals up in here and no music and a lot of talking and just very fringe. The most amazing people come through here telling me about it and I'm like, "Damn I wish I was here for that." But we do keep a photo of Marylou in the corner of our bar that one of our neighbors gave us just to give some of her spirit into ours.

Any plans to expand with another restaurant? Nothing specific. I start thinking about locations. I live in Harlem and Marcus Samuelsson recently opened a restaurant called the Red Rooster, which I visited. Delicious. And he's packed every night and it speaks to what Harlem needed: a great place to go dine that's similar to a downtown dining experience. So I think about that. I also think about other areas that used to be the nether regions when we moved here, like when 9th street was kind of scary and now it's this...mall. That little area over there by Avenue C, right before you get on the FDR Drive, with all of those silos and fences, which is just out of the zone, weird and awful-looking. It would kind of be an interesting place to have something secretive going on there, to walk way over there. But that's the thing. You gotta always hope that your little gimmick sticks so people actually travel that far.

No Brooklyn? Where? No, I'm joking. I gotta say, I never wanted to be a provincial person when I moved to this city and at times, the way work goes, I've become a creature of habit. Brooklyn I just don't know enough about, but every time I've gone out there and explored it I've said, "Oh I love this! I could live here, I could be out here." Haven't been back in ten years. No I'm joking, I was back recently. I just don't go out there often. Williamsburg always pops up, obviously, the word trendy, hip, hipsters...I don't get when people all are homogeneous and try to all blend in. So I don't know, it doesn't speak to me yet. But I bet that rent will, I bet the rent will speak to me. There are really amazing dining places out there in Brooklyn, that's the thing. A friend of mine, oddly enough, I'm gonna give her a little plug. I waited tables with a woman by the name of Meghan Love at Pastis back in the day and she has her own restaurant too in Williamsburg called Mable's Smokehouse. She and I waited tables together at Pastis and we'd always pass time by playing characters because we were both actors. So we'd play high school mean girls; she was the frumpy one and I was the cheerleader. Or we'd play I was the school jock and she was my bimbo girlfriend, to pass time. And then one season before the holiday party with Keith McNally, with my current partner David Rabin at his former spot Lotus, Megan and I did a dance performance for them that we rehearsed on for a week. How quirky is that?