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.