Fancy Manhattan Restaurant Allegedly Won’t Let Women Sit Alone at the Bar

Nello reportedly barred a customer from sitting at the bar, assuming she must be an escort. Photo: MykolaSenyuk/Getty Images/iStockphoto

When my brain demands alone time, or when I have an hour to kill, or when I would just like to luxuriate in silence for a bit, I like to read in a quiet bar. I can order my favorite drink, amass an army of snacks to consume at my leisure, and airplane my phone while I sit with my book, ideally uninterrupted. During my solo bar sessions, I’ve observed people of all genders doing the same thing, so I rarely consider that onlookers might have Opinions about this extremely standard practice. Apparently, though, solo women make some male restaurateurs nervous. Take Nello, the celebrity-beloved Upper East Side eatery slinging $275 pasta, for example.

On Tuesday, creative executive Clementine Crawford — a creative executive at the strategic branding firm Finch + Partners — published a personal essay entitled, “The Night I Was Mistaken for a Call Girl,” in which she detailed a perplexing policy change at a Madison Avenue restaurant where has has been a regular for about four years. Crawford does not name the restaurant in her post, but confirmed to “Page Six” that it was in fact Nello. Crawford did not immediately respond to the Cut’s request for comment.

In her essay, however, Crawford explained that she lives in London, but ends up spending much of her time in New York City, on business. While here, she sticks to a routine: She stays in the same room, in the same hotel, and eats the same thing at the same Italian restaurant, where she always sits in the same seat at the bar. “Unless I’m with my boss or clients,” Crawford writes, “I usually prefer to eat alone. Catch up on homework, preserve energy, think of the day ahead.”

Recently, however, she says a waiter scooted her out of her spot when she sat down for dinner, telling her that she had to sit at a table instead. When she came back a few days later, the same thing happened; she asked about the change, and says staff told her that meals were no longer served at the bar. Odd, but okay — until a few minutes later, Crawford alleges this happened:

A gentleman walked in — a regular, like me — and was seated on a stool at the bar. As the evening unfolded, I watched with great interest and gathering fury as they poured him his dirty martini; brought him his breadsticks; adjusted his white linen; dished up his spaghetti; added his fresh parmesan and black pepper to boot; chatted amiably to him over the counter; and rounded off his evening with a limoncello.

Angry at an apparent double standard, Crawford reportedly flagged down a waiter she “knew best,” who, she says, quietly advised that she “shouldn’t cause a scene and that there was nothing to be done.” Crawford, however, didn’t let it drop: She pressed the matter, and says that she eventually found out the owner, Nello Balan, intended to “crack down” on escorts. Apparently, he had made some assumptions about her job, which — while not offensive to Crawford — smacked of discrimination. Crawford says she asked to speak to the Balan (who, incidentally, has been sued by his workforce for allegedly withholding pay and allegedly breaking other labor laws): “He told me that he could run his business as he pleased, and that I was no longer welcome to eat at the bar, only at a table,” she writes.

When I called Nello for comment, the maitre d’ hung up on me twice, the second time saying that the owner was not available, and to call back later. (The staffer ended the call as I asked when the owner would return.) An emailed request for comment had not been answered at time of publication.

And so I cannot tell you why Nello (allegedly) assumes that a woman alone must be an escort. I cannot tell you why they would deny a sex worker a meal, or anyone else who had money to burn on over-hyped, overpriced truffle noodles. I cannot tell you what optics equation they use to determine the best place for a woman, regardless of her chosen profession. We will let you know if Nello gets back to us and clears any of this up.

Why Won’t This Restaurant Let Women Eat Alone at Its Bar?