2017-04-13 / Front Page

Another Local Icon Restaurant to Change Hands

By Olga Enger

After 54 years in the Crowley family, the La Forge Casino Restaurant on Bellevue Ave. is changing hands.

“It was time,” said owner Peter Crowley, 69.

His late father, Michael Crowley, opened the restaurant in 1963 and ran it until retiring in the early 1990s, passing his legacy along to his sons, Peter and Paul. Paul died eight years ago, leaving Peter to run La Forge alone. “I work seven days a week,” he said.

His only son is a Warwick firefighter, so he is not in position to take over the family business, he added.

New York businessman Nicholas Schorsch, 56, is investing $900,000 to acquire the business and transfer the liquor license, according to the liquor license transfer application. In 2013, he purchased the nearby Audrain Building for $5.5 million, which he converted into an automobile museum. In 2012, he purchased a residential property for $16 million at 43 Cliff Ave.

The La Forge sale does not include the property, which is part of the International Tennis Hall of Fame building. The restaurant will remain largely the same, with no drastic changes to the menu or staff, Crowley said. He did not want to speculate about the timeline of the purchase.

Earlier this year, Crowley said he was approached by Brendan O'Donnell about a potential sale of the restaurant. Crowley said, “I didn’t know Nick [Schorsch] was involved until recently.” O’Donnell is slated to be La Forge’s senior managing director.

La Forge’s walls hold a lifetime of special memories for the longtime owner. In high school, he spent weekends and summers learning the business alongside his brother. The then 23-year-old Crowley was married in the restaurant in 1971. Since then, his regular customers and staff have become an important part of his daily life.

“We have an extremely loyal customer base,” he said. “My lead bartender, Mike Tuohy, has been with us for 41 years. So, when they said they wanted to keep my staff and run it the same way, I felt comfortable moving forward. It made it easier.”

Likewise, the restaurant has created memories for diners through the decades. The iconic green leather booths have seated thousands of Newport diners, and Dave Manuel’s piano playing and sing-a-longs are a staple on Friday evenings.

Beyond the front dining room, the Kinsale Bar and Porch features a bar stocked with treasured mementos, including a wall clock displaying the current time in Newport’s sister city, Kinsale, Ireland. During summers, the porch offers front-row views of the emerald green tennis courts, while even in the off-season the grounds provide a dazzling backdrop.

When Paul Crowley was alive, the brothers had an annual tradition of decorating the restaurant for the holidays. “After Paul passed away, I lost interest,” Crowley told Newport This Week. Alberto Argueta, who has been with the restaurant for 14 years, picked up the seasonal job and began a new tradition. “Sometimes I feel that he is my boss,” Crowley said, laughing.

Crowley is not sure how he will spend his newly discovered free time. “Honestly, I haven’t really had time to think about it,” he said. “I have two grandkids that I love watching. I’m a golfer. So I’m guessing those are the two things I will do.”

There will be a press conference at the restaurant on Wednesday, April 19, at 9:30 a.m. to disclose more details about the transition process. The application is scheduled to be heard at the April 26 Newport City Council meeting.

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