Most sentient beings learned a thing or two from the cancel-culture hellscape of 2020; restaurateur Keith McNally apparently did not. As New York careens toward a full reopening, the creator of Balthazar, Pastis, Morandi, and Minetta Tavern is more talked about than ever. Unfortunately, it’s for all the wrong reasons.
Recipient of Internet Rage is a new role for a sometimes dour 69-year-old with fewer than 15,000 followers on Instagram, but it’s one he seems to be enjoying. Can we blame him for getting excited when an old friend ambles into Balthazar? No, but when the person is Woody Allen, perhaps this is not the moment to broadcast it. (Although one does have to admire his loyalty, sort of.)
The commenting masses did not take too kindly to the photo of Allen and his wife on McNally’s Instagram, captioned, “I’ve never been as happy at Balthazar as I was last night to see the beautiful Soon-Yi and her husband dining there.” (One astute commenter summed it up best: “Read the room.”)
A few days later, seemingly inspired by the backlash, McNally revisited the matter. “NO MATTER WHAT ONE THINKS OF HIM PERSONALLY, ARTISTICALLY THE MAN’S A GENIUS.… IF HE CAN JUST HANG AROUND UNTIL 5 YEARS AFTER HIS DEATH, ALLEN WILL BE A VERY HAPPY MAN.” Again, that one went over like a lead balloon.
As everyone with a brain wondered what was going on, McNally’s senselessness continued. Apropos of nothing, and just a few hours after contributing his part to the hagiography of Woody Allen, McNally weighed in on an even more toxic public figure—Ghislaine Maxwell, who is the second-toughest person in America to defend these days. (The first being the former president.) To caption a come-hither photo of the world’s most notorious alleged human trafficker, he wrote, “Let’s not rush to judgement. Ghislaine Maxwell is currently innocent. She must be given a fair trial. Due Process is the core of democracy.” And to add some literary flair, he sullied the memory of Flaubert by ending with the quote: “There is not a particle of life which does not bear poetry within it.”
Can we blame him for getting excited when an old friend ambles into Balthazar? No, but when the person is Woody Allen, perhaps this is not the moment to broadcast it.
Some observers suspected that McNally was showing loyalty to an old intime, but other New Yorkers in the know insisted that the two had barely even crossed paths. (Maxwell was a decidedly uptown sort.) Page Six and even Yahoo weighed in, with varying layers of disgust. And, like a lemming to the cliff, McNally increased the frequency of his posts: a photo of actress Laetitia Casta with a topless bust of herself (why?), a selfie with a bath towel wrapped around his neck (a bit too suggestive for our tastes), a postcard left on Balthazar’s Table 24 (“Dear Keith, my boyfriend might be married, but I’m not … martinis soon?”) .
On Monday, McNally published a photo of a woman grabbing a small girl by the arm as she threatened her with a leather belt. (Caption: “The day after Mother’s Day. Business As Usual.”) The response was venomous. But still—good luck getting a lunch or dinner reservation at Balthazar. According to Resy, there’s very little availability for the next two weeks. At least for now.
Note: Although Mr. McNally admires Woody Allen, the two of them are not old friends. (But McNally wishes they were.) Mr. McNally has never met Ghislaine Maxwell, and hopes he never will.
Ashley Baker is the Style Editor for Air Mail