Thursday, September 3, 2009

Fedora Returns

In July, the Fedora restaurant on West 4th closed briefly so that its proprietress, Fedora Dorato, could have back surgery. These events always unnerve me--when an old-schooler takes a health-related hiatus--because you just never know if that's the end and the place will next become the latest Beatrice Inn. So I was glad to get the chance to dine once again at the reopened 60-year-old Village haunt.



There were about 7 of us in the place, mostly older men with gray hair or no hair, sitting quietly alone over dishes of lasagna and veal parm. Occasionally, one of the men talked out loud to himself, then looked up surprised, as if he hadn't expected the words in his head to exit from his mouth.

The waiter brought my dish and asked what book I was reading. I showed him the cover. "The Culture of Narcissism," he read aloud, "Hmpf. Well, isn't that New York?"



On one wall of the restaurant are framed Playbills, pages of sheet music, and photos of handsome young men who autographed their head shots long ago to Fedora "with love." One called Fernando posed in leathers, shirtless, on a motorcycle. Most of them are octogenarians by now, if not gone, and I wondered if some of the men sitting alone at the tables were also on the wall.

They drank their espressos delicately, with pinkies raised, but belched like bears.

I thought: This could be me one day, alone but not alone, enjoying my usual table and usual meal. The peacefulness of the place was soothing and easy. Maybe it's the murky pink lighting, what painter Jon Hammer calls a "special kind of undersea gloom."



When Fedora walked in the front door, fit as a fiddle, the patrons applauded. The old woman, stooped yet elegant, warmly smiling, greeted everyone--many by name. "And how are you tonight, Jane," she asked, "And how are you, my dear friend Charlie?" Her patrons have been applauding her entrance for years. In 1992, she told the Times, "I love it when they applaud for me. Sometimes I go out just so I can come back in and hear them do it again."

She went behind the bar and poured a martini for one of her dear friends, knowing what he wanted without his having to ask.



When I walked out to the sidewalk, a young couple passed by. The guy tried reading the menu, but his girl pulled him along, saying, "Forget it, that place is empty."

Depends on your definition of "empty," I guess.

14 comments:

SP said...

Just found your blog via Greenwich Daily Photo. Really interesting posts, I'll be back again soon!

EV Grieve said...

Heaven.

MIke said...

Fedora's really is an amazing place. Everyone needs to go at least once.

Ken Mac said...

Love that joint!

hntrnyc said...

Beautiful post Jeremiah. Simply beautiful

Mark said...

As a Saturday night denizen of Fedora's for many years, I'm thrilled that she's back and well!

We're very happy that most people find the restaurant "empty" or "too old" or even grim. It makes for a calmer experience if the gawkers stay away.

We're just thrilled to dine in such venerable company.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic! Brought back many memories of what the Village once was. Can remember evenings when a couple in S/M drag sat at the table to my left. To my right, a couple with their WELL MANNERED children. Fedora would come by, smiling and greeting everyone. Nice to know it remains a place of civility in a neighborhood now infected with hubris.

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks. i don't go there as often as i would like to, but always enjoy the chance when it comes.

Jon Hammer said...

Hey, thanks for the plugola, Jeremiah. Nice post, captures the peaceful sweetness that is the gal and the restaurant. We stopped in a couple weeks ago, I think the second night Fedora was back. I think how close we come to losing this place and I want to go every night. But I have a list of about a dozen in that category.

Anonymous said...

Once, lunching in midtown, the diner next to me began conversing. Upon discovering I then lived in the West Village, he asked if I went to Fedora's. I had often gone with a neighbor who had since moved away; I could not go back. He, Upper East Sider, had been a regular until his favorite waiter left; he couldn't go back. Our narratives must be two of millions associated with Fedora's. You won't hear similar stories about the restaurants of the New NY.

Anonymous said...

I have walked by this place for years, but always worried about stopping in by myself for a meal. I tend to eat by myself, and in some of these hip "new Village" joints, people look at you weirdly. Little did I know all of the kindred spirits that awaited me, least of all beautiful, lovely Fedora.

Thanks for posting, Jeremiah. Always good, as usual.

Anonymous said...

I used to live in Manhattan, but emigrated to Europe. I was surprised - delighted, really - to learn that Fedora's still existed, and that the same lovely lady is running the show. I went there as a newly arrived young man in the city....1959, it must have been.

Kate said...

Found the place by accident during Fashion Night Out. Loved it! And your post! Thanks for the write up.

heddy said...

Well said. Places like this and the people associated with them are the heart of NYC. New Yorkers should be clapping for someone they know and love. It makes more sense than clapping like trained animals twice daily in response to some bell ringing on Wall Street.