The Balthazar Bathroom Reckoning: Reactions, Pleas, and Perspective

The aftermath of Blodget's bathroom kvetch heard 'round New York.

From left: Henry Blodget, Balthazar, and Keith McNally.

From left: Henry Blodget, Balthazar, and Keith McNally.

So, the word’s out—Balthazar’s bathroom attendants are gone, per the restaurant’s owner, Keith McNally.

We got the word straight from McNally himself when asking for a reaction to Business Insider chief Henry Blodget’s post railing against the presence of bathroom attendants at the famed SoHo brasserie. The one we got was surprising to say the least: McNally agreed with Blodget, and moreover, would be permanently doing away with the bathroom attendants. Needless to say, people had some thoughts about this.

Just a sampling:

Gawker: “Whining Millionaire Successfully Gets Bathroom Attendants Fired
The Awl: “Henry Blodget Has A Body Count
New York Magazine: “Which Job Is Worse: Balthazar Bathroom Attendant or Business Insider Anything?

Elsewhere, Eater and Grub Street both correctly pointed out that Balthazar’s bathroom attendants had been laid off previously, in January 2009, after the economic crisis forced many businesses like McNally’s to cut costs, but also, that they were back on the job a few weeks later.

Crucially, The Atlantic Wire’s Eric Levenson actually walked over to Balthazar to ask Balthazar bathroom attendant Cheikhou Niane what he thought of all of this. Yes, there’s potty humor (“‘people come in, drop the paper, pee, no flushing,’ then added in a whisper, ‘make kaka, no flushing. Very very very messy.’”), but it’s also more than a little heartbreaking: Niane hadn’t heard anything about his job status yet, but he’s keeping his hopes up:

Niane said he enjoys his job there and that he wasn’t worried about his future employment. “I believe in God. I’m not worried. God will take care of me. … I don’t have any problem for that,” Niane said.

Blodget, for his part, has tried to spin this entire thing McNally’s way, writing yet another screed: “Restaurants Like Balthazar Should Absolutely Not Fire Their Bathroom Attendants — They Should Hire Them As Waiters.”

Of course, Blodget’s maybe (probably?) willfully forgetting the simple and obvious fact that the training for waiters and bathroom attendants are wildly different, which is maybe why he’s also pledged to create new jobs, eat there every day of the week, and is now “pleading” with Balthazar management:

 

 

We’ve contacted Keith McNally for a response to Blodget’s call to arms (if you can call it that), and we’ll update here if he responds.

This isn’t the first time the subject of bathroom attendants has flared up, of course. New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov wrote about the presence of bathroom attendants (and specifically noting Balthazar’s) in 2002, writing then:

City life generates enough daily anxiety to fuel a moon rocket. But now comes one more daily chore that for some people has been transformed into an emotionally fraught experience: a visit to the restaurant restroom. The issue, to be more precise, is not the restroom itself, but the restroom attendant. Like an endangered species that suddenly appears in every backyard, restroom attendants are showing up in restaurants where you least expect to find them, and in greater numbers than you might imagine.

Elsewhere, Times dining critic Pete Wells suggested a possible motif among the anti-attendant crowd:

Times reporter Sarah Maslin-Nir offered some perspective from the ladies’ room:

 

Gawker’s Cord Jefferson recalled Proust, maybe:

 

The New Yorker‘s Matt Buchanan expressed a fear of being Blodgeted:

 

And Valleywag’s Sam Biddle helpfully invoked Henry Blodget’s past life as a securities analyst on Wall Street (an industry of such high moral stricture that Blodget is subject to a lifetime ban from it), and then suggested that Blodget belonged in prison:

 

 

Finally, credit to Willy Stalley, who not only wrote the recent (and utterly fantastic) New York Times Magazine profile of the Balthazar prep kitchen, but he also recalled a pretty pertinent moment in David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, written from the perspective of a man whose father once worked as a bathroom attendant:

I tip. I never forget that someone is there. Yes and do I admire the fortitude of this humblest of working men? The stoicism? The Old-World grit? To stand there all those years, never one sick day, serving? Or do I despise him, you’re wondering, feel disgust, contempt for any man who’d stand effaced in that miasma and dispense towels for coins?

If there’s any consolation, it may be that Blodget has already learned an important lesson, and is going for slightly less anti-employment bent writing. His latest is an endorsement: “I Just Found A New Haircut Place.” It goes without saying, but here’s hoping they don’t fuck up his neckline.

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