When Babbo Pizzeria e Enoteca opened in Boston in 2015, it seemed to have all the makings for a permanent success story: a highly visible location in the still developing Seaport District. A munu overseen by alleged sexual abuser and noted celebrity wearer-of-ponytails Mario Batali. And a progenitor in the form of the initial Babbo, a restaurant referred to as full of “lavish favors and intense flavors,” spearheaded by a man who once referred to roasted lotus roots as being akin to ‘sucking the toes of the Shah’s mistress.’
But that was 2015. Batali has been severed from all 29 of the restaurants overseen by his former hospitality group, Bastianach & Batali, after long rumored allegations of sexual assault and battery were substantiated in 2017. While the Seaport still remains among one of the most coveted destinations for any restaurant venture, a rash of seemingly perpetual closings and openings seems to portend that longevity simply may not be its strong suit. And the original Babbo—known as much for its selection of otherwise overlooked dishes of offal as for its A-list celebrity draw—seems to be floating in what the Village Voice’s Joshua Stein referred to as a gastronomic bardo “where sins and mitzvot are tallied” as a result of Batali’s departure.
So it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise that the once haughty specter of Batali was casting a corpulent shadow over Babbo when it announced it would be closing its Boston operation on September 15, laying off some 62 full and part time members of its staff.
When Batali announced his planned expansion to Boston in 2012, it was received with the sort of palm rubbing excitement typically reserved for papal visits and suburban Metrowest Lululemon openings. After all, this was il grande Mario; a wobbling caricature whose exaggerated sense of self importance single-handedly elevated otherwise slighted facets of traditional Tuscan cuisine into the national spotlight while building an empire once estimated worth $25 Million.
But while the initial Babbo may have focused heavily on archaic and undervalued ingredients, the local iteration of Babbo was a much more subdued and traditional affair. Think traditional pastas. Antipasti. Neapolitan pizzas. No tripe, no beef cheek ravioli or lamb tongue with crushed squab liver. And, for better or worse, no sight of Batali. Nor should there have been. After all this was a culinary titan who had over two dozen restaurants to keep a porcine eye over, in addition to his own production line of signature unisex orange crocs.
(George Jung? We completely forgive you for trying to peddle your officially licensed brand of “Boston George” sweatpants while you were locked up in Fort Dix.)
But the Boston location hasn’t been to only restaurant to suffer by association with Batali. Despite claims from the Bastianich family (the former partners of Batali in his hospitality group) that the restaurants in their portfolio have bounced back, sales at many of the former mogul’s establishments have dropped considerably—in some cases, by as much as 30 percent.
“While I never saw or heard of Mario groping an employee, I heard him say inappropriate things to our employees.,” Bastianich Manuali CEO Joe Bastianich told Eater (who was initially responsible for exposing the Batali allegations) earlier this year. “Though I criticized him for it from time to time, I should have done more. I neglected my responsibilities as I turned my attention away from the restaurants. People were hurt, and for this I am deeply sorry.”
Babbo Pizzeria e Enoteca is located at 11 Fan Pie Blvd in Boston. For more information, visit babbopizzeria.com