West Bank Cafe opened in 1978. It was as "far-west" on 42nd Street as one would want to venture, at a time when Hell’s Kitchen lived up to its name. The restaurant’s early clients even included the notorious Irish gang, the Westies.
In 1980, The New York Times awarded West Bank two stars, which increased its visibility and attracted a wider range of diners. In her review, Mimi Sheraton described the restaurant as “a spirited, attractive [place] with…a number of exceptional dishes memorable for both originality and excellence.” The original Continental menu included dishes such as crudités and sole amandine—a window into the culinary times.
In this era, West Bank Cafe's owner, Steve Olsen opened the Laurie Beechman Theatre downstairs from the Cafe, which staged plays and hosted events nightly. A young Lewis Black was named playwright-in-residence; Howard Stern aired his third-annual live birthday broadcast from the theater; and the restaurant’s regulars included Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller and Bruce Willis, among others.
Soon the redevelopment of 42nd Street spread further west, bringing new businesses and residents to the area. Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, the restaurant was a leader in the growing Theater District and Hell’s Kitchen dining scenes. As new theaters opened in the area, the restaurant’s connection to stage and screen remained strong as well. The Laurie Beechman Theatre continued to regularly stage the work of emerging writers, actors, and singers (many of whom later became stars) as well as established acts: The Who even gave four live performances at the restaurant while their musical Tommy was running on Broadway.
After 45 years, the restaurant’s surrounding neighborhood and America’s culinary tastes have changed dramatically. West Bank Cafe has evolved along with the neighborhood and maintained a commitment to serving high-quality food in a unpretentious setting where both theater-goers and theatre stars feel at home.
Owner Steve Olsen began working in the restaurant industry at age 16.
He started in the kitchen and worked his way through every position in the business. Steve opened the West Bank Cafe when he was all of 24. A passionate wine collector, he has amassed over 250 labels and holds vinification, viniculture, and blind wine tasting certificates from the American Sommelier Association.
In keeping with West Bank Cafe's close ties to the theater and film worlds, Steve has nurtured young actors, writers, and directors—including Lewis Black, Sean Penn, and Side Man playwright Warren Leight—many of whom appeared in and staged performances at the downstairs Laurie Beechman Theater, on their way to accomplished careers.