It can be argued that the gravitational center of downtown NYC’s dining scene is Soho brasserie Balthazar. It can also be argued that—among its many charms—Balthazar’s bathroom attendants are an old-school touch that adds to the atmosphere and level of service of the famed and relatively massive Spring Street haunt. But some people, like the editor-in-chief and proprietor of Business Insider, Henry Blodget, aren’t so down with the practice. And Blodget, as he’s been known to do, recently took to his own site to write a screed on his personal experience with this very matter.
For the uninitiated: Previous screeds by Blodget have included a 32-page slideshow about the modest and existential pains of stunting in Lufthansa business class seats; dollar-store philosophizing about the origins of antisemitism (“Why Do People Hate Jews?“); and a look at the daring, revolutionary act that is buying a newspaper. Seriously.
This season’s Blodget soliloquy, titled “Now Let’s Discuss The Awful Restaurant Practice Of Having Bathroom Attendants Who Watch You Pee…” delivers on its promised subject matter, beginning with the words, “I ate breakfast this morning at a New York restaurant called Balthazar,” and only getting better (or “better”) from there, with Blodget invoking class guilt and a weird empathy for people who have jobs because they need to have jobs and can’t write about the troubles of bathroom attendees. But more importantly, the anxiety of having someone turn on a water faucet for him:
“Then I think, ‘And after that will come the worst part. I will have to walk over to the sink and watch him turn on the water for me before I get there. I will think, ‘Thanks, but I actually don’t need someone to turn on the water for me. First of all, it wastes water. Second, it makes me feel like I’m the kind of guy who dreams of being rich enough to be able to pay someone to turn on the water for me.’”
In light of these musings, we were curious: What did Balthazar proprietor and downtown restaurant rainmaker Keith McNally make of Blodget’s view of the “extortion-by-guilt” that is the presence of bathroom attendants?
When reached by e-mail over the weekend, McNally returned with a surprising response:
“Unfortunately, I completely agree with it and will, in the next few weeks, relieve the restaurant’s bathroom attendants of their duties. They’re extremely loyal employees who, perhaps surprisingly, love their jobs. But Henry Blodget – despite his dubious business ethics* – has a good point and I happen to agree with it. Although I’m looking forward to standing at Balthazar’s urinal without another man staring at me I’ll very much miss my bathroom attendants. They’ve been absolutely wonderful people to work with.“
We responded to make sure we weren’t misinterpreting any mercurial British wit, and McNally assured us that, yes, he’s actually doing away with the practice: “I’m relieving them of their positions. Absolutely. They’ll be unhappy to hear this, but, as I said, I happen to agree with Henry Blodget. I’m serious.”
I’m relieving [the bathroom attendants] of their positions. I happen to agree with Henry Blodget. I’m serious.
So that’s that—an outcome we certainly didn’t see coming (though credit to those who actually did), and another blow to the increasingly obsolete restaurant bathroom economy. Recently, the death of legendary ’21′ Club attendant Lorenzo Robinson had an end-of-an-era feel about it too—bathroom attendants now seem quaint, and a fixture of a now bygone economic era, one where a bathroom attendant wasn’t a indicator of yuppie excess so much as a certain old-school charm.
Balthazar’s a lot of things, but a mook den it most certainly isn’t. And the move to cut the cord on bathroom attendants comes at a time when New York City’s service industry is attempting to dip a toe into more progressive practices of relations between service industry workers and patrons (namely, ending tipping). Plus, McNally’s always been a little ahead of the curve, and his own best critic, so it’s fair to wonder if this the beginning of a larger view on the matter, one where the result is a world without bathroom attendants.
While the absence of The Balth’s bathroom attendants obviously won’t stop us (or anyone) from eating there, we will mourn the loss of a few jobs. And also, caution Blodget from writing further editorials that may cost them, for that matter.
[*To be fair, we did describe Blodget in our e-mail to McNally as "the proprietor of Business Insider" and also someone who is "still subject to a lifetime ban of trading on Wall Street from his past life at an investment bank," which is totally true! But we also think Blodget's cleaned up his act since then, even if he does bring new meaning to the word "shitcanned" this week.]