A Small Cafe in New York's West Village
In the far West Village, there is a cafe I frequent. It's name is not of particular importance; while I do withhold it in part out of sense of selfishness, a desire to keep the place to myself, it is also because it is immaterial: it is only written in small letters, and rarely is ever mentioned. Rather, the place stands on its own merits, which is most likely how I happened upon it. For various reasons I spend a lot of time in the neighborhood, and my eyes are often on the lookout for a sadly rare location: a low-key space that, unlike a coffee shop, serves real food, but at the same time still has that same sense of openness and the same implied invitation to sit and stay for a while that a proper restaurant simply does not possess.
This cafe fits that description to a T. Functionally, it is much like any coffee shop: one walks in and orders at a counter, and after paying and if you are staying, they bring your order to wherever you choose to sit. The environment is warm and friendly. The space itself is fairly small, with large windows looking out over the street. Two small, Parisian-cafe-style tables sit with a view out, astride the front entrance, each including a small alcove lined with various pillows and cushions, inviting one to sit in the window if they so desire. The other tables are much the same style, although obviously lacking the windows and their alcoves, with the exception of a fairly large communal table, which gives opportunity for those dining alone or groups during crowded times to sit near one another, at the same table. The environment is full of subtle art and unimposing chotchkies, creating a very pleasant visual space. In addition they offer free wireless, always a major plus. As I mentioned at the outset, the environment is reminiscent of a coffee shop, with the exception of having quite decent food as well. It is that combination, the ability to eat, drink, work, and/or relax, all in one place, that begins to outline its specialness.
Those specifics, the services offered, the location, the aesthetics, are what drew me in initially. But as I slowly became a regular, there were various smaller features that became apparent. The staff is wonderful; congenial and quick, they truly get to know their regulars and are always eager to chat; they are friends to those who come often and are congenial. Part of that is surely the regular crowd; it is as motley a crew as could be expected. Of particular note are a group of elderly friends who come in near the same time everyday; they are boisterous and so hard of hearing that they practically need to yell at each other to communicate. There are also writers, businessmen and women, a charming blind man with a sweet, seeing-eye dog, in short, a little community that over time can't help but draw one in. The place and those who frequent it seem to encourage conversations between strangers, a rarity in New York. And yet, at the same time, the cafe is neither cloying nor does it feel small town or cliquish; one can just as easily go there once, have a nice meal or coffee, and never return, as much as go there everyday.
One final point of note is a small historical aside. It was one day while reading the book about Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs that we shall read later this semester when I came across the address of Jacbos's longtime home on Hudson St. Looking up, reading the numbers on the buildings, I quickly discovered that her home was the building immediately next door to that very cafe. Such a moment of small-world connectedness and historicity, particularly of a figure I deeply respect, is magical.
In short, it isn't the type of place which you would necessarily recommend to friends coming in from out of town (unless your friends are like myself), for on one level it is quite plain. But on the another level, it is a place that, were someone to try and force it to close, one would be drawn to start a picket line out front.
The attached picture is the Google Streetview image of the cafe; I will attempt to post an interior shot when I have the opportunity.