The Truth About The World's Most Exclusive Restaurant

Earlton, New York is so quiet that even its businesses sound like places to go to sleep. Take, for example, Honey Hollow Brewing Company, a craft brewery nestled in a cottage (via Brooklyn Based). But if you believe the 2013 Bloomberg article that started the hype, the most exclusive restaurant in the world is in Earlton.

Damon Baehrel's red gates will open a few minutes before your reservation to (via Damon Baehrel). They close afterward. Don't bring your cellphone or a camera – they' aren't allowed. Don't forget anything. Just ask the anonymous guest who did – he climbed over the gates to get back in (via The New Yorker). It feels like something out of Harry Potter. And it's hard to avoid concluding that the man behind the operation is a wizard. 

According to its website, Damon Baehrel (the restaurant) is a one-person show, run by "self-taught" chef Damon Baehrel (the man). Baehrel also claims to have hand-built the restaurant where he serves dishes made almost exclusively from ingredients he harvests on his property. The current price is $435.00 per person – beverages not included. 

Two things about this story seem indisputable. First, Baehrel can cook. His ex-sous chef, Mark Esslie, would "put him up against anyone in the world, in terms of talent." Second, the restaurant actually exists. One former guest raved about the food, calling it "out of this world" and "deserving of every accolade" (via Instagram). The rest of the story? You decide. 

To eat at Damon Baehrel, plan a decade in advance

To eat at Damon Baehrel, prepare to wait for years. In 2010, Barack and Michelle Obama might have "expressed interest" in the 20-course experience. At least that's what Baehrel told the Times Union, although a member of the White House communications team apparently denied it. Damon Baehrel has also reportedly claimed that Journey (the band), comedian Aziz Ansari, and world-famous chef Rende Redzepi all ate at his restaurant. When those claims fell apart, Baehrel denied making them. 

It was this and Damon Baehrel's unbelievable waiting list that led New Yorker journalist Nick Paumgarten to suspect something. If you believe Baehrel, his waiting list had always been three or four months long, but after his restaurant received a perfect Zagtag rating in 2006, things got "more and more out of hand" (via Eater). By 2014, he stopped accepting reservations. He told Eater that the restaurant could typically accommodate those with older reservations "after a couple of years." 

By 2016, the waiting list was 10 years long. To explain the wait, the restaurant cited 125,000 reservations from 72 countries between late December 2013 and mid-March 2014. Paumgarten did the math. If what Baehrel said was true, he received one booking request per minute, 24 hours a day. In 2019, Baehrel re-organized his opening times but refused to disclose them. Meanwhile, he claims on his site to have taken a six-year hiatus from accepting new reservations. 

Possible? Maybe. Plausible? That's up to you.

What's on Damon Baehrel's mythical menu?

You can choose to believe in the decade-long waiting list if you want to. Other restaurants have similarly long waiting lists. Club 33, in California, for example, has a reported waiting list of between 10 to 14 years (via The Modern East). But there are at least three other things about Damon Baehrel that just don't add up. 

First, a former guest claimed to have been barred from entering the restaurant's kitchen. Paumgarten gained access to it after a meal and noted that it looked pristine and completely unused. Plus, at 200 square feet, the kitchen is tiny compared to the national average of 1,051 square feet (via The Arizona Republic). Second, according to Paumgarten's investigation, Baehrel gets his meat from Mennonites that may not exist. Third, the dishes that Baehrel supposedly makes singlehandedly are fantastical.

If you do get a chance to visit, you might dine on cedar flour and wild daisy core dumplings coated with pine-needle-cured goose breast, steelhead trout brined for 27 days in sycamore sap (via Hudson Valley Magazine), and mahogany clams. It no doubt requires an almost impossible amount of preparation. Paumgarten, for example, checked with cheese experts who said it would be hard for a full-time cheesemaker to make the three dozen cheeses Baehrel claims to have made. Baehrel himself says his methods take "years to execute." 

Hudson Valley Magazine calls Baehrel "a modern-day alchemist." And he would have to be to pull his menu off.