Sanctuary owners Alphonso Biondi and Frank Raffaele

Hats Off! New York Times Finally Gets A Roosevelt Island Story Right


In a feature hailing The Sanctuary as “New York’s Hottest Destination,” the Times got the story (mostly) right. Through a combination of creativity in staging events and respect in integrating with community members and organizations, owner Frank Raffaele became a welcome neighbor and thriving success. But some reservations still persist.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

When you consider that the Times most recent story about our community claimed that Roosevelt Island Wants More Tourists – No, we don’t. – this article sets a high water mark in accuracy.

It orients around Paul Choi’s and Ashley Austin Morris’s wedding in what it calls “a little stone church,” which it isn’t anymore. But that’s nitpicking in an otherwise charming piece.

Writer Alex Vadukul thoughtfully articulates Raffaele’s successful narrative of a getaway event space with quiet charm and a view like no other. But some residents still complain about how that view gets taken over by private events in public spaces.

Roosevelt Island’s West Promenade becomes an extension of Sanctuary events, but Raffaele counters that by vibrantly sprucing up an area that once went to waste. Flowers and planters align a previously unadorned area. Making it safer for dog walkers and strollers, though, needs some attention.

The bar at The Sanctuary

The Sanctuary

“For so many New Yorkers, getting away isn’t an option, but this place feels like a getaway. And we all get to go back home tonight,” the bride said in the Times article.

In a way only longtime Roosevelt Islanders would notice, The Sanctuary completes the picture of a completely recovered space. Twenty years ago, the Dayspring Church and The Octagon nearby were unkempt and overgrown, virtual abandoned lots.

Neither is that now. The Octagon is a successful residential community in a pleasantly remote location. While the church is no longer a real church, it’s better. Both faced resentment upon opening and weathered it to become welcomed.

But, of course, the Times didn’t get it all right.

Quoted in the article, “There was some distrust because we’re outsiders,” Mr. Raffaele said. “This is a place that gets tense with old-timers because the cherry blossom festival gets too popular. So I’ve always had to be respectful, and it took a while to pierce the veil. There was even a blog that didn’t like us.”

That wasn’t true, and yes, this is “a blog that didn’t like us.” But we weren’t “tense…old-timers” with some bizarre connection to the cherry blossom festival.

Resented were plans for “a beer garden and speakeasy” on a quiet promenade adjacent to a kids playground. That was a startlingly inappropriate idea that took scarcely any consideration for the community, traffic safety and noise.

That was four years ago, not the two the Times claims, and it failed, leading to the current “hottest destination.”

Give Raffaele and partner Alfonso Biondi credit though. Hats off to The Sanctuary as well as the Times. They’ve got it mostly right so far.

And the venue’s a Roosevelt Island rarity. A clearly successful business venture getting out in front of a competitive city.


  1. it’s presumptuous of you to speak for all residents when you say, “We don’t want more tourists.” Visitors spend money and help support our anemic retail and restaurant sector. That being said, your coverage of Island affairs and keeping our state overseers on their toes are most appreciated.

    • Thanks, but I’ll disagree. Most tourists head south and do little for our traditional businesses because there is no reliable signage suggesting anything worth seeing. RIOC does nothing to promote our rich historical sites which would send many up Main Street. Worst of all, there is no promotion of the Girl Puzzle which, if promoted, would pull many up from the subway and tram.

      In theory, I agree with you a hundred percent, but it doesn’t work out that way. A half dozen times, I’ve tried shaming RIOC into updating the way finding signs, but they just don’t care enough.

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