Let $G$ be a complex affine reductive algebraic group, $B\subseteq G$ a Borel with maximal torus $T$ and unipotent radical $U$. Let $w\in\operatorname N_G(T)$ be a representative of the longest Weyl element. I am wondering whether the big open Bruhat cell $BwB\subseteq G$ is a principal open set, i.e. whether there is a regular function $f\in\mathbb C[G]$ with $BwB=\{ g\in G\mid f(g)\ne 0 \}$.

This is true for $G=\operatorname{GL}_n(\mathbb C)$, because the open Bruhat cell is the set of all invertible matrices with nonvanishing principal minors, in this case $f$ would be the product of those.

A little more generally, this is true when $\mathbb C[G]$ is factorial: The complement of any affine in a noetherian, normal and separated scheme is pure of codimension one. Since algebraic groups are smooth and the open cell is isomorphic to the affine variety $B\times U$, its complement is pure of codimension one. Each codimension one subvariety of $G$ will be the vanishing set of a single regular function because $\mathbb C[G]$ is a UFD. Hence, the product of these functions will cut out the complement of the open cell set-theoretically.

I do not see how I would go about proving the statement in the general case, though - and I am not sure if is correct at all.

Advances in Math.paper by Birger Iversen is most relevant, I think. – Jim Humphreys Apr 12 at 14:10