LIBERTY HOUSE, AN ICONIC JERSEY CITY EVENT SPACE AND INAUGURAL VENUE OF LANDMARK HOSPITALITY, CELEBRATES ITS 20TH YEAR
BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN • PORTRAIT BY AMESSE PHOTOGRAPHY
In the summer of 2000, restaurateurs Jeanne and Frank Cretella were invited to attend an Andrea Bocelli concert at Liberty State Park where Frank spotted an old rusted steel foundation in the middle of the Hudson River.
“He immediately envisioned this as an iconic restaurant and event space,” said Jeanne Cretella as she relayed the story of the Liberty House’s humble beginnings. “The next day he began to reach out to park officials. Turns out that there were plans for a restaurant by a notable NYC chef that didn’t materialize, and the structure had remained untouched for quite some time. Frank immediately began speaking with Liberty State Park officials and within weeks had a draft of a lease.”
Together the Cretellas had already established a strong reputation in the catering business. Selling homemade slices of carrot cake and pita sandwiches at the Boat House Snack Bar in Central Park since the age of 19, Jeanne parlayed her success there into ownership, turning the smallish stand into the Boat House Café, one of the park’s most recognized full service restaurants. The couple also sold hot dogs at the Staten Island Zoo before taking over operations in the borough’s Snug Harbor Cultural Center where they played host to a multitude of events from intimate dinners for 20 to 30 in the Governor’s House to massive outdoor parties for 600 guests at the Neptune Ball. They also revived Brooklyn seafood mecca, Lundy’s, before opening American Park at the Battery in 1998.
But none of their endeavors were quite as engrossing as the project they envisioned at Liberty House.
“The space, like all our venues, was meant for the million dollar backdrop to be front and center hence our catchphrase of ‘view with a room,’” said Jeanne. “We wanted the Liberty House to truly be seen as a setting all residents could enjoy with their families. Envisioning the main level to be a restaurant and the upper level to be utilized for life’s most special events, we planned the Liberty House as a space where people would be able to create memories for all their guests in an iconic locale. While Liberty House was still under construction the Twin Towers were front and center, and Jersey City at the time did not have many restaurants/event spaces on the river that could match the views. We were quickly able to visualize what this new project could eventually become.”
The owners hosted a glittering grand opening event in late August 2001 with more than 1,000 attendees, and the Cretellas planned to open the restaurant the next month. But the harrowing events of September 11 changed everything.
“The restaurant’s iconic backdrop was gone, leaving a void in the city’s beautiful skyline,” said the co-owner. “Our plans to open the restaurant had to shift, as Liberty State Park was closed to all traffic. We made a decision to hold off until the first day of spring 2002 for our launch and even though it was still an extremely difficult time, our guests were happy to have a place to gather.”
The venue, which was the first of several hospitality businesses to be developed under the couple’s Landmark Hospitality corporation, saw success from the start. Brides and grooms gushed over the uninterrupted Manhattan skyline views, and the venue’s event calendar quickly filled with weddings. Dinner guests from both sides of the river returned time and again for the fine dining fare.
“We consider ourselves and have been recognized in the industry as a chef driven company,” said Jeanne. “It’s imperative for us to provide a culinary experience that allows the view and outdoor areas to be an additional ‘plus’ but not the reason guests come back time after time. Working with a menu that changes seasonally and utilizes local offerings (which are abundant in the Garden State) is our recipe for success. This, coupled with a team of long standing professionals who truly embrace our commitment to ‘making memories’ for each and every guest, has been the basis of Liberty House’s success.”
The couple has continued to enhance the look and feel of the space over the past several years, keeping it relevant and inviting with constant additions to the venue’s landscaping and gardens.
“The entire city facing part of the building is now all glass allowing unobstructed views,” she said.
And even in the face of a global pandemic, the Cretellas remained resilient.
“2020 was certainly the hardest professional situation we have ever been faced with. The sheer magnitude of how long this pandemic has lasted and how restrictions forced us to be the first to close and the last to open is a situation no one could have been prepared for. The toughest day in Frank and my career was when they had to make the decision that doors needed to be closed and the team needed to be laid off. When the dust settled, we did what was necessary to bring back our team, open our doors, and provide a safe environment for all.”
Throughout that time, Landmark Hospitality continued to develop new systems that would allow for better touch points with their guests and teams.
“We looked closely at systems that had been in place and made necessary changes,” said Jeanne. “We tried to use the time wisely and come out of this as a stronger company. Working within the guidelines had its challenges, but ultimately we as a company are committed to providing a safe, healthy atmosphere for our guests.”
And there are ample developments on the horizon for Liberty House in the near future.
“There are always exciting changes and improvements on tap; it’s what is required to keep a 20 year old company to continue to grow sales each year,” concluded Jeanne. “We’re excited for Liberty House to be celebrating its 20th year, as well as our Jersey City sister property’s grand opening, Hudson House, which in addition to restaurant and event spaces, will have a rooftop lounge.”
76 Audrey Zapp Drive, Jersey City 201.395.0300 / libertyhouserestaurant.com