feeding the trolls

Michael Wolff’s War on Everything Is Just Viral Marketing for Himself

Michael Wolff
Photo: Patrick McMullan

Angry man for pay (and past and present New York contributor) Michael Wolff is at it again, as he is every time he has an article to promote. Long a media provocateur, Wolff has only optimized his barbed bitching for the Internet, where he works like a Method actor, matching the tone of his latest piece on social media and carrying on until everyone notices. This time, the pissy routine is aimed at New York City restaurants, where it’s just too hard to get a reservation, let alone good service. Wolff has fought this battle before.

Here he is this week in the British edition of GQ:

I don’t think it is possible to overstate the dominance of restaurants in urban life. They are the cultural focus and reference, eclipsing sports, art, literature, entertainment, music, drugs – and sex. You likely wouldn’t have sex with someone who took you to the wrong restaurant (or at least wouldn’t be happy about it). […]

If your assistant is any good at all, he or she will have narrowed lunch to four or five places and have, by careful trial and error, measured how far in advance it’s necessary to call in order to avoid rejection and disaster. Repetition – say, six months of bookings – will finally get you a favourable database field and a reliable table (until someone else starts to book who is yet more faithful or famous than you, at which point you’re downgraded). […]

For many years, I had a safe berth and an enviable table in the front room at Michael’s, on West 55th Street, among the most hotly contested pieces of turf in Manhattan among media people. But then Michael and I had a tiff, which at the time seemed worth taking a principled stand about. The result was to cast me into a lunchtime wilderness from which, several years later, I have never really emerged.

This is not his first fight with the service industry. A 2009 profile from WWD begins like this:

For Michael Wolff, the best thing about moving to the East Village from the Upper East Side may be the chance to fight with a whole new set of people: the neighborhood’s restaurant staff. Since arriving in April, the Vanity Fair columnist has tussled with several, and been asked to leave at least one place. (Telling one unsatisfactory server, “Oh? Possibly you’re on drugs?” led to his ejection, Wolff says.)

When Wolff complained bitterly to his daughter about all this, “She went on to tick off 10 restaurants on the Upper East Side that I’d been asked to leave,” he says.

And then there was the self-proclaimed Juicegate, in which police were called because Wolff wanted to break the rules and bring a fresh-pressed beverage into a movie theater. He also hates Elaine’s. And Fresh Direct.

It’s a tired shtick, sure — and easily refuted in the age of endless easily accessible, casual, and relatively cheap NYC restaurants. But it’s also the golden age of the angry foodie or anti-foodie think piece, so he had to make his stick out somehow. In response, Wonkette called Wolff “a mindless jerk who’ll be first up against the wall when the revolution comes.” Always spoiling for a fight, Wolff went on a pretty little Twitter rant even though he’d warned preemptively in his (British) piece, “I am sounding cranky, I realise, which is risky behaviour.”

By widening his aim to include not only those who displease him service-wise, but young people and especially young writers, Wolff is baiting the bloggers. Now it’s class war and an age war and a flame war — a one-day story, if that, in a foreign magazine, suddenly has an extended life span online. (And we’re complicit, if not exactly enraged either way.) The historical record may show he’s an asshole, but he’s making it work for himself professionally.

You will be shunned if you complain or grumble about the size of your table or the decibel level or general environmental assault, or ever actually try to send a dish back,” Wolff wrote with self-awareness. “There is no way, really, to protest.” Except on the Internet, of course, where even if your opinions are hated, they’re rewarded at the same time. But he already knew that.

Michael Wolff Hates Restaurants; Loves Attention