December 7, 2023


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Keith McNally’s Latest Controversies, Explained

4 min read

Commenters were angry. “You’re insane,” reads one. “Damn dude CANCELED,” reads another. In typical McNally fashion, there wasn’t quite an apology so much as another post explaining the original. Several days later, he posted another picture of Maxwell with a caption in which he wrote “I was NOT defending Maxwell. I was defending her RIGHT to a fair trial. I HAPPEN TO THINK SHE WAS GUILTY, but i don’t KNOW it 100%.”

McNally’s pugilistic approach to public discourse extends to his relationship with restaurant critics as well. After a one-star review from New York’s Adam Platt in 2010, McNally wrote a letter to Platt, calling the restaurant critic “bald” and “fat” and said that he was “incapable of reviewing lively downtown restaurants impartially.” When a similarly negative review of Morandi, led at the time by chef Jody Williams, appeared in the New York Times, McNally accused former restaurant critic Frank Bruni of sexism. According to McNally, the critic had never given a female chef more than a single star at the time.

Bruni never formally responded to the letter, but he did call McNally a “horrible man” later that year. Platt was a bit more loquacious and generous in his response. “I respect Mr. McNally, of course, and have praised the food and atmosphere at many of his ‘busy, exuberant’ restaurants in the past,” he wrote. “As always, in these cases, he is entitled to his opinion and I, as a bald, middle-aged and, alas (slightly) overweight professional restaurant critic, am entitled to mine.”

More recently, McNally called Graydon Carter, longtime Vanity Fair editor and cofounder of “AirMail,” a “fancy fucker” for ghosting on a reservation at his restaurant, Morandi. He also said in a 273-word rant that the Tin Building, Jean Georges Vongerichten’s latest restaurant complex, “epitomizes the Very Worst of New York,” and—in incredibly McNallyesque fashion—wrote, “Say what you like about Mario Batali, but his Eataly was spot on. The Tin Building is not.” More McNallyesque still: Three months later, he actually visited the complex and “COMPLETELY CHANGED MY MIND.” He writes, “I’m loath to admit it, but I absolutely loved the place. I should now do the Right Thing and apologize to everyone involved with the market… for being so fucking wrong about it.”

Despite some of his reprehensible and head-scratching takes, McNally’s fans (and probably a not-small number of his haters) continue to follow along closely. His restaurants remain popular and his posts still garner thousands of likes.

Many of McNally’s restaurants have become celeb magnets

McNally’s constellation of restaurants around Manhattan represent a specific slice of New York City dining culture—one of casual glamor and luxury. His restaurant career began with the Odeon, which he opened in the early ’80s. It became a hangout for such characters as Andy Warhol, Robert De Niro, and Madonna. A 2004 profile in the New York Times dubbed him “The Restaurateur Who Invented Downtown.” Anna Wintour, the fashion icon (and global chief content officer at Condé Nast, Bon Appétit’s parent company) is perhaps one of the most consistent McNally devotees, but according to nightly reports from managers at his restaurants that he posts on social media, other guests have included the likes of Eddie Redmayne, Natalie Portman, and Olivier Sarkozy, among others.

His Instagram is as highly trafficked and drama-filled as his restaurants

McNally’s lack of a filter is a large part of why scandal seems to follow him everywhere. But that’s not to say his online feed is only filled with questionable takes. He posts frequently—often multiple times a day—with candid snapshots of what he’s thinking. Sometimes the posts veer into the… intimate, like one where he’s pictured coyly lifting his hospital gown toward the camera in his hospital room post-vasectomy. 

There’s also introspection and self-aware musing on the restaurant industry, as well as pictures of the man himself posing with longtime employees, and anecdotes of his many, many celebrity run-ins. McNally describes a “torrid love affair” with Real Housewives of New York star Dorinda Medley. He announces a $500 bonus and a paid vacation to Chechnya for Balthazar’s employee of the month. He often emphasizes his deep belief in giving people a second chance. He reflects on complicated relationships with his parents. 

Whether followers come to get an insider’s view on the restaurant industry or to participate in one of many frequent arguments in the comments of McNally’s posts, the raw, sometimes problematic nature of his Instagram presence has proven to be irresistible for many. It is useless trying to predict what he will post next.

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