Restaurant Legend Warner LeRoy Dead at 65

February 26, 2001, 12:00 AM EST

Warner LeRoy, the restaurant impresario behind Tavern on the Green and the Russian Tea Room, died from complications of lymphoma on Thursday, February 22. LeRoy was known for taking the razzle dazzle he learned growing up in a showbiz family--his father directed The Wizard of Oz--and changing the way New Yorkers look at restaurants. In LeRoy's restaurants, just going out to dinner became an event.

In LeRoy's obituary in The New York Times, Eric Asimov writes, “Mr. LeRoy brought drama and entertainment to a business focused on cooking and hospitality. He envisioned restaurants as stage sets and threw everything into his designs, with the aim not merely of decorating but also of animating customers.”

Asimov continues, “Some said that his taste for rococo shimmer and dazzle was just noisy kitsch, that his pursuit of the fantastic sometimes crossed the line from exuberance to wretched excess. Others thought of him as an artist--Paul Goldberger, writing in The New York Times, once called him 'New York's mad genius'--and, in fact, architecture and design writers seemed more interested than food critics in his restaurants. But no matter who was critiquing, his emphasis on production values transformed how restaurants looked and how people felt about them.”

One example of that impact: Asimov quotes New York restaurateur Danny Meyer (of Eleven Madison Park and Gramercy Tavern) saying, “Nobody can out-showbiz Warner in a restaurant, and probably nobody would want to, but in defining the edges so authoritatively, everybody took notice...He forced the rest of us to reckon with how people are going to feel in terms of the drama of our atmosphere. You cannot open a major New York restaurant today and not be aware that showbiz will play a role.”

In The New York Post's obituary, Le Cirque 2000 owner Sirio Maccioni called LeRoy a man of “intelligence, generosity and courage,” and said, “He had a creative vision that added to the quality of life in the city.”

Posted 02.26.01

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