Melanie Murillo created many memories throughout the years at Riccardo’s by the Bridge — a beloved restaurant and event venue in Astoria — but her fondest was her wedding day.
“You guys treated us just like family,” Murillo wrote in a comment under the restaurant’s Facebook post announcing it will be closing permanently. “You put us at ease and took off all the stress and we were so thankful. We will never ever forget you all!”
After nearly 70 years of serving the Astoria community, Riccardo’s by the Bridge announced the closure on Sept. 1, due to the operational impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This decision has been extremely difficult to make, and is solely due to the various impacts of the COVID pandemic; if it were up to us we would cater your special events forever,” Anthony Corbisiero, president of Riccardo’s, wrote in an open letter. “But after reviewing all options and weighing all known factors, there is simply no realistic path forward given all of the unknowns: when we might reopen and, even then, the anticipated city, state and federal restrictions that will most definitely be placed on such a reopening.”
Murillo told QNS the closure is a “huge loss” for Queens and the whole city.
“It hurts my heart to see them go,” she said. “There will never be another like it or the people who ran it with such love.”
Murillo is not alone in her sentiments. Dozens of community members have expressed their melancholy at the news of yet another Queens restaurant permanently shutting down as a result of the city’s months on lockdown.
But Riccardo’s closure is particularly striking due to the decades of history and countless celebrations held inside the venue, right by the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge (once called the Triborough Bridge).
If you ask some of Queens’ community members what their favorite tidbit of Riccardo’s history is, it will most likely be that iconic jazz singer-songwriter (and Astorian) Tony Bennett worked as a waiter at the restaurant before he became an award-winning artist.
Shortly after the announcement of the restaurant’s closure, Bennett took to Twitter to express his own sadness of seeing the restaurant go.
“When I was starting out, I got a job as a singing waiter at Riccardo’s in Astoria,” he wrote. “I always felt that if I never made it as a performer, I would still be happy as a singing waiter. I’m very sorry to hear of its closing after nearly 70 years.”
Like Bennett, many Queens residents remember with much tenderness working at Riccardo’s as well as celebrating school dances, graduations, proms, birthdays, quinceañeras, sweet 16s, weddings, anniversaries and political events in their state-of-the-art banquet facility.
Celeste Spriggly said she grew up going to Riccardo’s for a myriad of celebrations — from New Years Eve parties to the celebration of St. Mary’s Church in Long Island City, where she met her soulmate, Claudio.
Two years ago, they had their wedding there.
“What makes me sad the most is that I won’t be able to drop in to say hi to Tony, Mark, Nina, John, Edison, Fausto and all the wonderful staff at Riccardo’s,” said Spriggly. “Thank you for all the wonderful memories, the most beautiful memories, and giving us a piece of your hearts.”
Nicole Libertini recalled her father, Mario, working at Riccardo’s from 1965 to 1989. “It was like a family,” she said.
Laura Ciechalski remembers sometimes going to work with her grandmother, Margaret Degnan, who lived right across Riccardo’s and worked there as a coat check attendant in the 1970s. Ciechaski even had her first Shirley Temple there.
“I always remember her being so happy while she worked there. Everyone was always very good to her,” said Ciechalski. “I remember going there on so many occasions as a young girl, being almost star-struck by the beauty of the establishment — everyone dressed in beautiful suits and gowns and all of the fancy cars. I was so young, so I don’t remember much more than that. It was always a happy place.”
Francesca Miano recalled her own grandfather, Mike Lodebole, worked at Riccardo’s as the maitre d’ in the 1960s.
Riccardo’s closing points to larger issues the restaurant industry face in New York City. The Queens Chamber of Commerce projected that more than half of the restaurants that have closed in the borough since March likely won’t reopen.
For months, small businesses across the borough have called for immediate action and relief from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to prevent the economic and quality-of-life collapse that may result of the pandemic.
Astoria native and local Councilman Costa Constantinides said it breaks his heart to see “such a civic-minded restaurant with a rich history like Riccardo’s close down.”
“So many groups have done their events at Riccardo’s that it became an institution like few others in our neighborhood,” he said. “Seeing it close only reminds us why we must cancel rent and mortgage payments for restaurants as the city develops a plan to really support small businesses. Whether it’s a plan for indoor dining at reduced capacity or a stimulus for restaurants and their employees, we need creative solutions to get the industry through the other side of this pandemic. Otherwise, Riccardo’s will be far from the last Astoria institution to shut its doors.”
Stephanie Laterza said the closing of Riccardo’s is especially heartbreaking for her family this year, as her father, George, passed away in April.
“My parents, George and Maria Laterza, celebrated their wedding reception at Riccardo’s in 1978, and then their 25th wedding anniversary there in 2003,” she said.
“We are grateful to have also celebrated my father’s 80th birthday party at Riccardo’s 10 years ago,” said Stephanie.
In 2008, 30 years after her parents’ wedding reception, Stephanie celebrated her own reception at Riccardo’s.
She said that over the years, extended family members and their friends celebrated countless events for organizations like the Lions Club, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel’s Diamond Bingo Club and HANAC.
Maria Baglio grew up in Astoria. She recalls going to many parties at Riccardo’s. Like Stephanie, Baglio also had a family member recently pass away.
“This hits home more than ever because my aunt passed away on May 25, and we celebrated her 50th birthday there in 2013,” said Baglio. “She beat cervical cancer is 2013, so we decided to throw her a celebration for that as well as a 50th. Four years later, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. My mother and I were just talking about how beautiful her party was and how she had a wonderful time. We were also so grateful we were able to celebrate her milestone birthday.”
Eileen Lyons recalled two generations of her family celebrating their wedding receptions at Riccardo’s Tiffany Room.
“We have gone to many events there since: New Year’s, St. Patrick’s Day, church, anniversary and Knights of Columbus events,” she said. “In October 1999 we had the christening party for our daughter there as well. [We] have always been pleased with the food and service they provided. We were there last in January of 2020 for a Knights of Columbus award ceremony. [We] will miss this special place in the neighborhood.”
Astoria native Mercedes Maldonado Jennings said she married her high school sweetheart at Riccardo’s.
“We got married 13 years ago and had our wedding reception in Riccardo’s Tiffany Room on Friday, June 15, 2007,” said Maldonado Jennings. “I actually watched our wedding video the night before last, and cried knowing that that video is our only trinket, other than my wedding photos, and the memory that my husband and I shared one of the happiest days of our lives there.”
Corbisiero, whose father, Richard, opened the venue in 1951, wrote that Astoria community has honored four generations of their family with their loyalty and trust.
“To say that we are humbled and honored would not capture even a small sliver of our appreciation,” Corbisiero wrote. “We are proud of what we’ve done over the years. Our business goal was to create a venue that was affordable to the widest group of people possible while showing them a great time, a great value, all at a great price. And we succeeded. Making sure we remained affordable meant that the greatest number of people could have the greatest number of celebrations at a place featuring — if I may say so myself — the [greatest] fried calamari anywhere.”