Raoul’s Restaurant Francais in SoHo holds legendary status in New York’s artistic community – not least for its food
Raoul’s Restaurant, located at 180 Prince Street in Manhattan’s SoHo, is a staple in the NYC art scene. For over 40 years Raoul’s has attracted artists, writers, directors, actors and creatives of all sorts. A community seeking low-key authenticity and simple fare.
Founded in 1975 by brothers Serge and Guy Raoul, originally hailing from Alsace, France, Raoul’s had the humble beginnings of a modest French Bistro in a rough and tumble neighborhood. A neighborhood once dominated by the Italian community. In fact, the space was previously occupied by an Italian joint called Luizzi’s–the type of place Michael Corleone might have made reservations.
Raoul’s Restaurant – artistic beginnings
SoHo lies adjacent to the 1960s cultural Mecca of Greenwich Village, and became a bohemian hot spot during that time for the city’s creative community. It was a true artist enclave, not like the cosmopolitan tourist district it is today.
Its tenement apartment buildings, abandoned textile mills and empty warehouse spaces served as an affordable draw to New York’s artist community. For those surly creatives that called SoHo home, Raoul’s was their local, where everyone knew your name, along with your sexual preference and drug of choice.
Throughout the decades Raoul’s has attracted countless waves of underground creative-types. Even today it’s not uncommon to see celebrities enjoying oysters or an easy-drinking Bordeaux. For example, faces that belong to Steven Spielberg and George Clooney or Jennifer Lawrence and Robert DeNiro are not uncommon.
Today, despite its occasional star-studded clientele, Raoul’s does well to offer accessible exclusivity. For example, it serves hamburgers – voted among the best in the city – but only at the bar, and only 12 per day. At 5:30pm (when Raoul’s opens for dinner), there’s always a line at the door. Other French favorites are a traditional steak au poivre avec pomme frites, poireaux vinaigrette, and duck, all backed by an array of delicious vintage.
Much has changed in Manhattan since those heady early days, yet Raoul’s has stayed much the same. In large part due to family tradition. Karim Raoul, the son of co-founder Serge, has taken over the establishment since 2010 after his father had a stroke. Having grown up above and inside the restaurant, the younger Raoul, now 41, had all the ingredients needed to continue his father’s and uncle’s foodie legacy, which dates back to his grandparent’s restaurant in France.
“I was terrified I’d screw up,” Karim told the New York Times a few years ago. Judging by the constantly packed house Raoul’s continues to enjoy, it’s clear that the apple does not fall far from the tree.
With its dedication to simple French cuisine and neighborhood atmosphere – and unwavering support for the arts and creative expression – Raoul’s is both nostalgic and contemporary. It’s a throwback to a past era yet more relevant than ever.
I could of course carry on but suffice to say you must just experience it for yourself. So if you’re ever in NYC, and crave that secret au-poivre sauce, Raoul’s is a must-add to your Manhattan menu.
Please Help – Coronavirus Crises
Raoul’s like most restaurants across the country is feeling the pinch during the coronavirus lockdown. Today – March 24, 2020 – Raoul’s launched a GoFundMe campaign with a goal of raising $100,000 to help all of its longtime staff overcome the financial impact of this pandemic. If you can, please share and donate.
James C. Sullivan is a guitarist, singer, marketing professional and long-time journalist having worked at publications including Snowboarder Magazine and USA Today. He recently returned to his old sod roots of New England after spending over a decade in southern California because cold winters and cloudy days inspire more creativity, right?