On October 10, 1967, a 16-year-old punter from East London named Keith McNally, who would grow up to become one of the greatest restaurateurs to ever ply the trade on the island of Manhattan, stood in a throng at Longchamp racecourse in Paris. It was his first trip to France and he’d brought a wad of cash to put on a horse, a good chunk of it earned as a bellhop at the Park Lane Hilton. A couple of months earlier, McNally had passed by one of the hotel’s banquet rooms and witnessed the Beatles (minus Ringo) having their fateful first meeting with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The most famous persons in the world, McNally recalled when I asked him about this recently, “appeared to be mesmerized by the guru’s honeyed words. But to me they were just meaningless platitudes.”
At Longchamp, the no-nonsense lad watched his sure bet bomb. He limped back to London empty-pocketed, having blown the chance to experience steak frites, onion soup gratiné, or frisée aux lardons—classic brasserie dishes that McNally’s landmark restaurants, including Balthazar, Lucky Strike, Café Luxembourg, Minetta Tavern, and Pastis, which has just reopened in a new Meatpacking District location on Gansevoort Street after a five-year hiatus, have daily served by the hundredweight.