By George Capsis
“Oh no, not the Riviera,” was the reaction to the closing of this 47-year-old landmark defining the corner of West 4th Street and 7th Avenue, with its outdoor tables and the funny-leaning front door.
So, Dusty and I went there to share a hamburger and asked the waiter to send over the manager, John. When he appeared, I recognized that I had interviewed him years ago in his paper-encrusted cellar office trying to extract an ad for WestView.
John is a relaxed, soft-spoken Ohioan in his late 60s who explained that there were three owners of, not only the restaurant but of the building, and they had decided to close because the restaurant was losing money. So, this time, it was not the rent.
We get so used to restaurants going under when the landlord drops a guillotine lease that we never think about the time when restaurants competed on how their food tasted and the prices.
Oh, the Riviera Café has a history. It was once big with actors and even had a mailbox for the Actors Studio. Some of the regulars were Colleen Dewhurst and John F. Kennedy, Jr.
John looked darkly across the street on West 4th Street at Wilfie & Nell, which was filled with sidewalk tables. This Irish, young peoples’ hangout had an incessant hum and was nearly always crowed and noisy—it has its own survival magic. Over the years, Wilfie & Nell has received top reviews, including ones in the Times, The New Yorker, and New York Magazine. According to those reviews, the food is very good and about the same price as the Riviera. Perhaps that is the contributing factor to its loss of business and now demise.
John began to enumerate all of the restaurants that have opened around the Riviera as a reason it was losing money. But I thought, “Hmm, getting a new chef is an instant way to correct the quality of the hamburger.” (I begged the waiter to substitute pickles for the standard unripe tomatoes but no luck—these were nearly green.)
So, the Riviera Cafe will go and a new restaurant will take up the challenge and try to make the corner work again. Oh, I don’t know, I would like to see Nedick’s come back.
The Riviera Cafe Dies but it is Not the Rent
By George Capsis