Spotted Pig owner Ken Friedman kept a 'rape room' where chef Mario Batali allegedly groped unconscious woman

The upstairs lounge at Manhattan's famed Spotted Pig restaurant had a decidedly stomach-churning nickname — the “rape room.”

It was inside the third-floor V.I.P haunt that owner Ken Friedman allegedly grabbed the head of longtime server Trish Nelson and pulled it toward his crotch in front of Amy Poehler in 2007, Nelson told the New York Times.

It was also where former manager Jamie Seet had to intervene after seeing on a security feed that celebrity chef Mario Batali was allegedly kissing and groping a woman who appeared to be unconscious, Seet told The Times.

“We called him the Red Menace,” Nelson, 40, said of Batali. “He tried to touch my breasts and told me that they were beautiful. He wanted to wrestle. As I was serving drinks to his table, he told me I should sit on his friend's face.”

Dozens of interviews with employees at the Spotted Pig and its sister restaurants revealed a toxic top-down culture set by Friedman that not only tolerated sexual harassment, but relished it, The Times reported.

13 PHOTOS
Mario Batali and Anthony Bourdain together
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Mario Batali and Anthony Bourdain together
NEW YORK CITY, NY - NOVEMBER 7: Mario Batali and Anthony Bourdain attend Mario Batali 'Roasted Battered & Fried' to Benefit the Food Bank For New York City and Kick Off the 3rd Annual New York Comedy Festival at Capitale on November 7, 2006 in New York City. (Photo by Joe Schildhorn/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
Bad Boy Chefs Mario Batali and Anthony Bourdain during The Gourmet Institute Weekend at Gourmet Magazine Headquarters at The Gourmet Institute in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Mychal Watts/WireImage for Gourmet Magazine)
Bad Boy Chefs Mario Batali and Anthony Bourdain during The Gourmet Institute Weekend at Gourmet Magazine Headquarters at The Gourmet Institute in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Mychal Watts/WireImage for Gourmet Magazine)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - APRIL 21: Anthony Bourdain and Mario Batali attend FOOD BANK FOR NEW YORK Presents the Sixth Annual CAN-DO AWARDS DINNER at Pier 60 on April 21, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by JIMI CELESTE/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - NOVEMBER 7: Anthony Bourdain and Mario Batali attend Mario Batali 'Roasted Battered & Fried' to Benefit the Food Bank For New York City and Kick Off the 3rd Annual New York Comedy Festival at Capitale on November 7, 2006 in New York City. (Photo by Joe Schildhorn/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - OCTOBER 06: Chef Anthony Bourdain, restaurateur Joe Bastianich and chef Mario Batali attend the 3rd annual Magic Martinis & Mario fundraiser at Del Posto on October 6, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Henry S. Dziekan III/Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - NOVEMBER 16: Mario Batali and Anthony Bourdain attend BARNEYS' FOODIE Holiday Windows and LEE SCHRAGER'S SOUTH BEACH WINE AND FOOD FESTIVAL PARTY at Barneys Madison Avenue on November 16, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Photos-BEN GABBE/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 16: Film subject Mario Batali (L) and executive producer Anthony Bourdain attend Tribeca Talks After the Movie: 'Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent' during the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival at John Zuccotti Theater at BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center on April 16, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 02: Chefs Anthony Bourdain (L) and Mario Batali take a selfie at The (RED) Supper hosted by Mario Batali with Anthony Bourdain on June 2, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 02: (L-R) Chef Mario Batali, Artist Shantell Martin, and Chef Anthony Bourdain attend The (RED) Supper hosted by Mario Batali with Anthony Bourdain on June 2, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 02: Chefs Anthony Bourdain (L) and Mario Batali speak onstage at The (RED) Supper hosted by Mario Batali with Anthony Bourdain on June 2, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 02: Chefs Mario Batali (L) and Anthony Bourdain (C) attend The (RED) Supper hosted by Mario Batali with Anthony Bourdain on June 2, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 02: (L-R) Chef Mario Batali, Chef Anthony Bourdain, and Joseph Carr attend The (RED) Supper hosted by Mario Batali with Anthony Bourdain on June 2, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
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Ten women said Friedman, 56, subjected them to harassing behaviors during their time under his management, such as unwanted groping or demands for sexually explicit photos.

Server Natalie Saibel said that in 2015, Friedman ran his hands over her buttocks and groin while they were together in a room packed with patrons. He excused the crude groping by joking he had to be sure she wasn't smuggling a forbidden cell phone, she told The Times.

Carla Rza Betts, a former wine director at the Spotted Pig and two other Friedman properties — the Breslin and the John Dory — said she eventually quit in 2013 after multiple incidents of harassment.

She said one night in 2009, Friedman took her to a rooftop bar near the Breslin to scope out the competition. Without asking, he leaned over and planted a kiss on her lips, she said.

“In the moment, you are not thinking at all,” Rza Betts, 39, told The Times. “He's your boss. You don't punch him. You just don't kiss back, and pull away and try to shake it off.”

After she left in a cab, Friedman started pelting her with inappropriate text messages that she saved and shared with the newspaper.

“G'nite gorgeous. Send me a sexy picture,” he wrote in the first.

“You wish,” Rza Betts wrote back before politely thanking him for an “excellent evening!”

“Cone on. One sexy pic,” he pleaded.

She turned him down again, but he wouldn't relent.

“Just 1. A hot 1,” he wrote. “Show me your body.”

When Rza Betts asked if Friedman was trying to “hustle” her, he responded, “Yes. Come on. Just one sexy picture. Please.”

He finally signed off by calling her a “meanie.”

“I was embarrassed, felt taken advantage of and emotionally manipulated,” Rza Betts said.

17 PHOTOS
Mario Batali out and about
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Mario Batali out and about
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 25: Mario Batali attends Passion Play: How Jessica Alba and Mario Batali Created Multichannel Marvels during the Fast Company Innovation Festival at 92nd Street Y on October 25, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Fast Company)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 15: Chef Mario Batali attends 6th Annual Mario Batali Foundation Honors dinner at Del Posto on October 15, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 15: Chef Mario Batali attends 6th Annual Mario Batali Foundation Honors dinner at Del Posto on October 15, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 14: Chef Mario Batali and television Ayesha Curry during Family Ice Cream Fun-dae hosted by Mario Batali and Ayesha Curry at Private Park at Hudson on October 14, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for NYCWFF)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 13: (L-R) Food and music writer Brooke Mazurek, musician Jarobi White, chef Mario Batali, and moderator Isabel Gonzalez-Whitaker, deputy editor of Billboard speak on the Chefs are Rock Stars and Rock Stars are Chefs panel at Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits of New York Trade Tasting presented by Beverage Media Group, during the Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival presented by Coca-Cola at Pier 94 on October 13, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for NYCWFF)
THE CHEW - The hosts of 'The Chew' broadcast from Disney's Epcot Center in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Yvette Nicole Brown is the guest on Friday, October 13th. 'The Chew' airs MONDAY - FRIDAY (1-2pm, ET) on the ABC Television Network. (Disney/Todd Anderson) MARIO BATALI, CLINTON KELLY
THE CHEW - The hosts of 'The Chew' broadcast from Disney's Epcot Center in Lake Buena Vista, Florida the week of October 9, 2017. 'The Chew' airs MONDAY - FRIDAY (1-2pm, ET) on the ABC Television Network. (Disney/Todd Anderson) MICHAEL SYMON, CARLA HALL, ISLA FISHER, CLINTON KELLY, MARIO BATALI
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0697 -- Pictured: (l-r) Chef Mario Batali during an interview with host Jimmy Fallon on June 21, 2017 -- (Photo by: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 21: Chef Mario Batali and Susi Cahn are seen in NoHo on June 21, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by TheStewartofNY/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 20: Chef Mario Batali arrives at EAT (RED) Food & Film Fest! at Bryant Park on June 20, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for (Red))
THE CHEW - Larry the Cable Guy is the guest, Monday, June 19, 2017 on ABC's 'The Chew.' 'The Chew' airs MONDAY - FRIDAY (1-2pm, ET) on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Heidi Gutman/ABC via Getty Images) MARIO BATALI
THE CHEW - Ali Wentworth is a guest on 'The Chew,' Tuesday, June 6, 2017. 'The Chew' airs MONDAY - FRIDAY (1-2pm, ET) on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC via Getty Images) MARIO BATALI, ALI WENTWORTH
THE CHEW - Tituss Burgess is the guest Monday, May 22, 2017 on ABC's 'The Chew.' 'The Chew' airs MONDAY - FRIDAY (1-2pm, ET) on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Jeff Neira/ABC via Getty Images) MARIO BATALI, DAPHNE OZ
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 22: Mario Batali and Mariska Hargitay attend The Joyful Revolution Gala In New York City hosted by Mariska Hargitay's Joyful Heart Foundation on May 22, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Joyful Heart Foundation)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 11: Mario Batali attends the WITNESS 25th Anniversary Gala at The Edison Ballroom on May 11, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)
THE CHEW - Jessica Seinfeld and Camilla Alves are the guests today, Tuesday, April 25, 2017 on ABC's 'The Chew.' 'The Chew' airs MONDAY - FRIDAY (1-2pm, ET) on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Jeff Neira/ABC via Getty Images) CARLA HALL, MARIO BATALI
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 19: Mario Batali, Susi Cahn and Michael Symon attend 2017 Can-Do Awards at Cipriani Wall Street on April 19, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/WireImage)
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Friedman, who opened the Spotted Pig on West 11th Street in the West Village with the backing of Batali and music mogul Jay-Z, issued an apology published by The Times.

“Some incidents were not as described, but context and content are not today's discussion,” he said. “I apologize now publicly for my actions.”

He called his behavior “abrasive, rude and frankly wrong,” and said the women who work at his restaurants “are among the best in the business and putting any of them in humiliating situations is unjustifiable.”

His company said Tuesday that Friedman would take an indefinite leave of absence, effective immediately.

The restaurant group's partner and star chef April Bloomfield denied turning a blind eye to prior complaints about Friedman.

“In the two matters involving uninvited approaches that were brought to my attention over the years, I immediately referred both to our outside labor counsel and they were addressed internally,” she told The Times.

“I have spoken to Ken about professional boundaries and relied on him to uphold our policies. Nonetheless I feel we have let down our employees and for that I sincerely apologize,” she said.

Batali, meanwhile, took a leave of absence from his restaurant empire and cooking show "The Chew" on Monday after a report on the food news website Eater New York included four women accusing him of inappropriate touching.

Batali apologized in a statement, saying "much of the behavior described does, in fact, match up with ways I have acted."

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