McNally is the man behind a collection of perennially fashionable-and perennially mobbed-restaurants including Balthazar, Pastis, Schiller's, and Minetta Tavern.
The son of a London taxi driver, McNally moved to NYC in 1975 to pursue a film career. Filmmaking didn't take root, but he managed to make a name for himself on the dining scene soon enough. Starting out as a busboy at Serendipity, McNally later became the maitre d' at a restaurant called One Fifth, a popular hangout for the cast and crew of Saturday Night Live. It was there that he met his (first) wife, Lynn Wagenknecht, and in 1980 McNally, Lynn, and his brother Brian opened the Odeon in Tribeca. An instant hit, it became the hub of all things cool, attracting young writers, artists and celebs like Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, David Byrne, Jay McInerny, and McNally's old pals from SNL.
Over the next few years Lynn and Keith followed up with Café Luxembourg on the Upper West Side, the club Nell's on West 14th Street (now Noel Ashman's Plumm), and Lucky Strike on Grand Street in SoHo. But the empire came undone in 1987 when the couple moved to France with their three kids and ended up divorcing soon after. As part of the settlement, McNally parted with two of the properties. In the years since, he's rebuilt his dining empire with Pravda (1996), Balthazar (1997), Pastis (1999), Schiller's Liquor Bar (2003), Morandi (2007), and Minetta Tavern (2009). In 2012, McNally announced that he would be opening up a restaurant in London, with speculation as to whether it would be a much-awaited Balthazar outpost.
McNally has a reputation for creating restaurants that endure: Balthazar, which is now more than a decade old, effortlessly transitioned from hotspot to SoHo fixture and still packs in crowds and rakes in cash. Built for $3 million, it reportedly grosses $400,000 in an average week. (Perhaps it helps that one of McNally's trademarks is meticulously designing restaurants to seem like they've been around forever.) McNally has also developed a reputation for pioneering new neighborhoods. Pastis opened years before hordes of club-goers descended on the meatpacking district, and Schiller's was plopped down in an otherwise desolate part of the Lower East Side.
For years, McNally's formula seemed to be invincible. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case with Morandi, which debuted in 2007. The first McNally creation since he opened Schiller's, the West Village Italian restaurant earned a lukewarm reception from both diners and critics alike. "Everything about the place feels characterless, haphazard, and slightly off-key," concluded New York's Adam Platt.
Keith has always had a rocky relationship with his restaurateur brother Brian McNally, who once owned 150 Wooster, Indochine, Cafe Lebowitz, and Smith. The restauranteur has three kids from his marriage to Lynn: Isabelle, Sophie, and Harry. In 2002, McNally's wandering eye settled on a former hostess at Balthazar named Alina Johnson. They married the same year and now have a son named George. The family splits their time between a painstakingly restored Greenwich Village townhouse, and a four acre working farm he owns on Martha's Vinyard.