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relates to Mario Batali’s Former Empire Is Thriving—as Long as He Stays Away
Photo illustration: 731; Photos: Getty Images

Mario Batali’s Former Empire Is Thriving—as Long as He Stays Away

His onetime partners are jazzed to finally move on without him. There’s just one problem.

On a recent Friday night, the scene at Babbo, the downtown New York restaurant, seems much like one that’s played out on countless weekends since chef Mario Batali and his partner, Joe Bastianich, opened it in the summer of 1998. The place throbs with a high-volume soundtrack of 1970s rock stalwarts like Heart and Aerosmith. A line of customers wait for seats, peering hopefully into the main dining area, where all the white-cloth-topped tables are occupied. The menu still features Batali’s surrealistically titled dishes, including Spicy Two Minute Calamari Sicilian Lifeguard Style and Mint Love Letters, reminders of the day when Babbo was the city’s most exclusive place to eat and guests could scan the room and see Madonna, unexpectedly tiny and dressed in white, at a corner table; or George Clooney out for a date with his wife, Amal; or Bill Clinton holding court, surrounded by political and financial intimates.

Yet Babbo isn’t as bustling as it was before December 2017, when numerous women accused Batali of sexually abusing them and he became perhaps not the first, but certainly the most famous chef to fall from his pedestal as the #MeToo movement swept his industry. In the pre-scandal days, a crush of black cars waited outside the restaurant. Tonight, there’s a single SUV. As for recognizable faces, there are none in the room. By 9 p.m., the crowd, older than it was in the restaurant’s heyday, has begun to thin.