Raoul’s in SoHo is less riotous now than during the restaurant’s ’70s and ’80s heyday. But its charm remains much the same.
Before there was Balthazar or Lucky Strike or Odeon, there was Raoul’s.
In the early ’70s, you’d be out of luck if you wanted to get food late at night in SoHo, except for at a couple of bars and maybe Dave’s Luncheonette down on Canal and Broadway. Then, in 1975, a pair of Alsatian brothers, Serge and Guy Raoul, opened a bistro in what had been an old Italian restaurant on Prince Street. They served steak frites and poireaux vinaigrette, oysters and duck — and plenty of red wine.
At first, locals dribbled in. Later, the word got out and even the tourists were admitted. There were artists, actors and filmmakers. Everyone talked art and indie film; everyone smokedand did drugs and drank all night. Being there, you knew you had somehow joined some inner New York circle. When I moved to SoHo, in the ’80s, I spent a lot of nights at Raoul’s.
Scores of other places have opened in SoHo since then. Some of them, like Balthazar, have even aspired to Raoul’s cool. But I hadn’t paid much attention to Raoul’s until recently, when I noticed little knots of people standing outside the restaurant just before 5:30 p.m., waiting for it to open. It had always been a late-night kind of joint, so I stopped into see what was going on and fell into a vat of nostalgia.