Bridge ‘Park’ to run through River Cafe

Part of ‘Park’ will open next year; But other parts are postponed
Michael Van Valkenburg Associates

The lovely grounds of the enchanted River Café will be ripped apart to create a pathway linking disparate ends of the Brooklyn Bridge Park development, The Brooklyn Paper has learned.

The restaurant has a romantic perch and breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline, but it actually sits on city-owned land at the end of Old Fulton Street — an area that planners hope to incorporate into the project.

As a result, the River Cafe would lose some area from its landscaped lawns and parking lot to the controversial open space and condo project, which stretches along the Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO waterfront.

The path that would be cut through the River Cafe would provide a link between existing state- and city-owned portions of the park along the waterfront between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges and the proposed segment from Old Fulton Street to Atlantic Avenue.

River Cafe owner Michael “Buzzy” O’Keeffe hinted that his restaurant was in danger this winter, when he sent out a rambling missive to restaurant regulars and the media that alluded to a crisis over his site.

“The River Café’s park is without question one of the prettiest little parks in the city, and we keep working to make it better,” O’Keeffe wrote. “Now, some think they have a better idea.”

The letter mentioned Brooklyn Bridge Park, but did not directly refer to any plan to damage or shrink the River Cafe’s grounds.

“There are great risks when imposing any new park design over an area that is already a proven success since every new design (including The Brooklyn Bridge Park) is subject to its own ‘limited probability of success,” he wrote in the letter’s kicker.

Final designs for the pathway have not been settled yet, but O’Keeffe’s is increasingly confident that the damage won’t be as extensive as he originally feared, he told The Brooklyn Paper last week.

“When you’re dealing with municipalities, sometimes they’re unreasonable,” he said. “I wasn’t sure we were going to work it out.”

For now, O’Keeffe said he believes it will work out — and officials from the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation agreed.

“For more than 30 years, the restaurant has lured both visitors and New Yorkers to Brooklyn’s waterfront. That’s why we are working with the River Café to ensure that they are a part of Brooklyn Bridge Park and a destination favorite for years to come,” said Regina Myer, president of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation.

The agency did not make a rendering available to The Brooklyn Paper.

O’Keeffe does not own the land under his landmark restaurant. Since 1977, when the café opened, he’s had a long-term lease with city, which has been extended and now runs until 2025. He pays $1,667 rent per month — roughly equal to 10 people ordering the $125 six-course tasting menu and a bottle of a 2001 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion.

He’s also responsible for maintaining 600 feet of public waterfront from the dock where his Ice Cream Factory venture stands to a point under the Brooklyn Bridge.

In other developments, The Brooklyn Paper has learned that a portion of Water Street, which intersects Old Fulton Street in front of the River Café, will be narrowed to create the link between the park’s northern and southern ends, too.

Passive recreation areas at Pier 1, just south of the Brooklyn Bridge, and Pier 6, near the foot of Atlantic Avenue, are scheduled to open later this year.

Here’s what the site looked like before the River Cafe opened in 1977.