Raoul’s in SoHo Turns 40

Raoul’s in SoHo recently celebrated its 40th anniversary with a dinner party that brought together both patrons and former employees. Michael Cecchi-Azzolina, for instance, used to be a waiter there and now runs the West Village restaurant Bobo. The birthday party continued for 10 hours.

Opened in 1975 by Serge Raoul and his brother, Guy, Raoul’s is a family operation that caters to families in addition to a who’s-who scene in New York. Mr. Raoul has retired from the enterprise and lives in Nyack, New York. His son, Karim Raoul, 37, started to manage the establishment in 2010 and he’s keeping the family legacy alive.

As Karim explained, “We wanted the real regulars in tonight: those people who had 90 reservations and upwards. We have three generations of customers: the parents, the grandparents and the kids.”

Raoul’s got its first real break when Lorne Michaels arrived with his group from Saturday Night Live one night. As James Signorelli, a producer at SNL for decades explained, “At that time we were finishing up our work at 11 p.m. and no one was serving. Then we discovered Raoul’s, and it was like going to heaven, and we were here midnight to 2 a.m. three nights a week.”

In the mid-1980s, Raoul’s really took on a life of its own when headwater, Rob Jones, would get into drag and lip-sync the crowd in a dance. Mr. Jones died of AIDS in 1989 and in the 90s Raoul’s became a hangout for those in the indie film industry. Quentin Tarantino and the “Pulp Fiction” cast celebrated their movie debut at the New York Film Festival here.

And this continues to be the place to be 40 years after it all began.