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Keith McNally
Photograph: James Hamilton

Keith McNally on the return of Balthazar and his super-entertaining Instagram account

The celebrity restaurateur refuses to post about dogs, babies or flowers.

Anna Rahmanan
Written by
Anna Rahmanan

Keith McNally, the celebrity restaurateur behind New York City staples Balthazar, Morandi, Pastis and Odeon (among many others) clearly knows his stuff when it comes to eating and drinking. But it turns out that the dining guru actually has a lot more to say about all the other topics that have been capturing the attention of the city—and the country as a whole—in the past few months. 

To say that McNally is a prolific Instagram user is to underestimate the extent of his social media usage. In the past few months especially, the restaurateur has, in fact, taken to the platform to dissect a whole range of topics independent of the best pizza and pasta dishes in town and the proper way to serve a Negroni.

From his thoughts on Serena Williams ("the greatest female tennis player of all time") to his take on the much talked-about Oprah interview with Prince Harry and wife Meghan Markel ("a fantastic actress"), McNally bares it all on his feed. Which begs the question: what does he hope to accomplish?

Taking a bit of time away from his seemingly endless scrolling and posting, the delightful McNally tells us about his devotion to the medium, the inspiration behind his posts and the sorts of photos he'll never make public. Plus: his thoughts on the re-opening of the beloved Balthazar almost a full year after indefinitely closing its doors given the pandemic. 

Balthazar is reopening on March 24. Do you suspect New Yorkers will flock back to the French brasseries in droves? 
I don't think New Yorkers are going to flock back to Balthazar. They might dribble back, I suppose. I think that, initially, people are going to be so ecstatic to finally eat in a full dining room again that their behavior will change. They'll be way more patient and tolerant... for about five minutes. It'll be similar to an airline passenger's vow to be a better person if he survives the plane's severe turbulence. But, once he's through customs, the guy's back to screaming and cursing at people.

Pastis, another one of your restaurants, already re-opened to the public. What is the logic behind the different approaches to the two eateries?
There is no logic to opening a restaurant, especially if making money isn't one's sole reason for opening one—as it's not with me. I build restaurants to try to gain the respect of people I admire. And I don't just mean layabouts.

What has the pandemic taught you about being a restaurant owner?
As a result of being drastically short [on] money during COVID-19, I learned—like other restaurateurs—to operate my restaurants on a much tighter budget. This made me realize there were so many unnecessary expenditures in my places. As Samuel Johnson said: "When a man's to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."

How has the restaurant industry forever changed?
Ask me when forever arrives.

Your Instagram posts are very entertaining but rarely deal with your day job. What inspires each post?
Initially I wrote my Instagram posts to get away from my day job, but I've now become so addicted that writing Instagram posts is my day job. Inspired is too highfalutin a word to describe what prompts me to post. I draw on my journeyman's interest in paintings, books, films, architecture, photography and theatre. Sadly, in the end, Joe Public mostly wants just photos of food and restaurants. Or dogs and babies. I can't bear photos about dogs, babies or flowers. Nine months ago, I put up a post suggesting that those three subjects be banned on Fridays. I lost 300 followers that day. I consider it a feather in my cap to lose followers.

What do you hope to achieve through each post?
Stimulate people. Either by prompting them to see things from a different angle or by illustrating their hypocrisy. But always humorously.

What is it that you love about Instagram?
Apart from pissing people off? Making them laugh. But I do fear running out of things to post. I suppose at that point I'll buy a dog and post endless photos of him. 

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