When Agil Nadirov arrived in the United States, he had a grand total of $600 and no place to stay. It was January of 2012. He spent his first night on the New York subway system, huddled in the warm train car. When he landed his first gigs in Brooklyn – busser, dishwasher – Nadirov was overjoyed. He was one step closer to settling down, buying a house, and opening his own restaurant.
“I wanted to prove to myself and my family that I can do something,” says Nadirov, who now owns The River Social, a fashionable eatery and cocktail lounge next to Waterplace Park. Nadirov grew up comfortably in Azerbaijan; his father works in the oil industry and his mother is a physician. After working in New York’s restaurant sector, Nadirov stumbled into a bizarre opportunity: To work with his friend, selling remote-controlled helicopters at Providence Place Mall.
“I took the risk,” says Nadirov, who started hawking high-tech toys to passersby. He learned the art of retail and helped expand the business – to nearly 20 locations. Incredibly, this kiosk is the reason he met his wife Rebecca, a Johnston native who bought an RC helicopter for her father. From there, he started a cell phone repair service, which also grew rapidly.
But Nadirov still dreamed of opening a restaurant. He had worked in kitchens in Azerbaijan, and he took pride in the kebabs he would make for his family. As he and his wife traveled across the US and sampled different menus, Nadirov imagined aggregating a range of culinary traditions.
“Most people understand Mediterranean cuisine,” he says. “All Mediterranean coastal countries, the food is kind of similar, but the ingredients are different. They add different spices and herbs. That’s why we bring all these countries together – we have Spanish grilled octopus, French duck breast, Turkish kebabs, Moroccan mezze plates.”
The River Social is a bright space, with ceiling-high windows overlooking the Providence River. The entrance is accessible only from a cobblestone walkway, just a short distance from the Exchange Street bridge. Nadirov credits his wife with the interior design – the elegant, papery lamps, the smooth wood furniture, and the lit-up sign, wreathed in grass, that reads, “Let’s Meet Here.” The restaurant has become a hotspot for brunches, parties, bridal showers, and innumerable Instagram selfies. Soon, the restaurant will host live music every Friday, plus reservation-only dinners during WaterFire lightings.
“The reason we [have] the name The River Social,” adds Nadirov, “it was right on the river, and when I came in here, I said, ‘This is the best place for people to get social.’ It doesn’t matter, winter or summer. Have a couple drinks, a couple bites, a nice entree, and get together. Just come, be social.”
200 Exchange Street, Waterplace Park, Providence