After nearly 30 years as one of Napa’s most legendary restaurants, Tra Vigne, will close Dec. 20. Despite months of rumors, news officially broke last week that the restaurant will shut its doors after property owner Bill Harlan decided not to renew the restaurant’s lease.
JUST IN: The space will be taken over by The Restaurant at Meadowood’s Chef Christopher Kostow and Restaurant Director Nathaniel Dorn for a yet-to-be-named restaurant project focused on more casual, celebratory dining experiences. Harlan is the owner of Meadowood as well as cult winery Harlan Estate.
Kostow plans to continue his role at the three-starred Michelin restaurant, along with wife Martina. “We will continue our work here, unabated, at The Restaurant at Meadowood. We are looking at this new project first and foremost through the lens of St. Helena and then through that of the Napa Valley as a whole,” said Kostow.
The new restaurant is slated for a 2016 opening.
While Napa awaits a newcomer, however, one of Tra Vigne’s first partners, Kevin Cronin, reminisced about the decades of celebrity sightings, life-changing introductions, and first jobs for many of Wine Country’s elite. A Wine Country institution, it was hub for up-and-coming winemakers in the Napa Valley, as well as a see-and-be-seen spot for celebrities throughout the ’80s and ’90s.
“A lot of big names started their careers there,” he said. Michael Chiarello was the first executive chef, if that’s any indication. And while the restaurant had lost some of its luster in recent years, the closure is a tough one for many to swallow.
“It’s a tragedy,” said Cronin, who left Tra Vigne in 2006 to open Rosso Pizzeria and Wine Bar with chef John Franchetti (also a Tra Vigne alum), but has kept close ties to the current partners. “It was like Camelot in the early days,” he said. “It was an epic time, and (the closure) is the end of an era,” he said.
The restaurant’s onetime guest list included Robert Redford, Robert Mondavi, Danny DeVito, and Francis Ford Coppola. Even Julia Child made an appearance once, asking to meet everyone in the kitchen and shake their hands. “She had an impact on every person she touched,” Cronin said. “She knew who she was supposed to be for people.”
Stories come easy for Cronin, who describes the property as one of the most beautiful in America. A life-changing moment for him: having dinner with Andre Tchelistcheff, one of California’s most important winemakers, credited with defining the enduring style of Napa wines. “He talked about pinot noir like sex. It was like magic, and one of the most amazing moments in my career,” he said. A large group of old-timers plan to meet at the restaurant on November 20th, Cronin said.