The River Café opened in June of 1977 in a forgotten and abandoned neighborhood by the Brooklyn docks – desolate except for trucks waiting to enter the piers. When Michael Buzzy O’Keeffe first “found” this spot, it was barren and devoid of life. To him, this small strategic piece of chaotic waterfront was special – lacking any civility, but with wonderful possibilities. This was the oasis that he had been searching for.
It took twelve years of beseeching the City before approval was granted in 1974. The City was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Some of New York’s most important business executives and government officials advised Mr. O’Keeffe that building on the Brooklyn waterfront was extremely risky, exposed to peril, and destined to fail. Every bank in New York turned him down. Despite all this, the restaurant opened and was an immediate success.The River Café has always strived for perfection. The intent from the beginning was to prepare and serve some of the world’s finest food, with professional service, in a warm, beautiful and exciting, yet relaxed atmosphere. We only work with the very best ingredients. There is no compromise with quality, every item had to be the very best. We search America for freshness and quality, but will go anywhere in the world to get the best product available. We were the East Coast forefront for the new American cuisine, searching out the finest and purest ingredients in every aspect – from how they are fed and how they are harvested.
The most desired goal in building a great restaurant is to place it in the most beautiful setting possible – to provide the surroundings so that the customer is transported for the time to a wonderful, beautiful, peaceful and very special place. We work very hard to provide this.
Talented young Americans came to perform on The River Café’s culinary stage – looking out on the most photographed view in America. They came full of talent and energy and blossomed – one after the other – each an artist painting with a different brush – each quickly maturing into world class status.
These young, eager chefs, taught by their European master teachers, developed a colossal American work ethic and grew into a new, almost “warrior bred” of chef. The young American chefs went on to set new standards for American cuisine with New York becoming the culinary capital.
The River Café’s success became the catalyst for the redevelopment of the Brooklyn waterfront.
Bryan Miller of The New York Times referred to The River Café as “the Harvard Business School of the culinary world.” Regina Schrambling, also of the New York Times headlined her article on The River Café “The Restaurant that Launched a Thousand Chefs.”
While The River Café has produced many culinary firsts (e.g. the term free range chicken was coined here under Larry Forgione), no other American restaurant has produced as many world class chefs – Larry Forgione, Charlie Palmer, David Burke, Rick Laakkonen and Brad Steelman.
The River Café has been celebrated with numerous accolades including: a Michelin Star, The Restaurant Hall of Fame Award, The “Ivy Award of Distinction” from Restaurant and Institutions Magazine, Distinguished Restaurants of North America Award (DiRoNA), The New York Parks Council Award, The Municipal Arts Society Award, The “Wine Spectator Award of Distinction” from Restaurants and Institutions Magazine, The Wine Spectator Award, selected by the French culinary guide, “Gault Millau,” as one of the five best restaurants in New York and consistently voted “Most Romantic Restaurant in America.”
The River Café draws more New Yorkers and visitors into Brooklyn than any entity since the heyday of Coney Island. It has been the location of many major films, hundreds of commercials and countless television shows. It has hosted many of the most famous – from within government and business to celebrity and royalty from around the world.