Thursday, January 16, 2014

Caffe Dante

VANISHING (sort of)

This note came in from a reader: "I live above Caffe Dante on MacDougal St between Bleecker and Houston St, and I've heard rumors in the building that Caffe Dante's last day will be this Sunday."



Alarmed by this information, I went to check it out. I was told by an employee that the cafe is closing this Sunday, but for renovations--and a change of concept. The owner's son is taking over and will be putting in a full kitchen and bar, changing Caffe Dante into a restaurant. The coffees and pastries will remain, but to a lesser degree.

Reopening in about six weeks, it may or may not still be "Caffe Dante."





Dante has been in business since 1915. One of the once plentiful Italian coffee shops of the Village, it was frequented by the Beats, and by folksingers like Bob Dylan.



It's an old-fashioned, comfortably lived-in cafe, with wobbly tables and faded photos on the walls. It remains one of the few spots where you can sit quietly and read, sipping a beverage, unbothered. (While I sat in the quiet, a man came in and asked, "Is there a place where I can plug in my phone? I need to make a lot of calls." The answer was no and, thankfully, he left.)

Let's hope that Dante remains Dante, and stays a quiet, contemplative spot.



To be safe, if you want to experience the old Caffe Dante, go before Sunday. In a couple of months, one way or another, it won't be the same.

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

Please God, no. My favorite of mine, for more than thirty years, through high school, college, grad school and afterwards! A last bastion of civility....Damn it.

Anonymous said...

Oh no! This is one of the oldest, real people places in the area. You know that table in the window that always has a "reserved" sign on it? No one ever sits there and it's always empty. Lore has it that it was reserved for any mafia that dropped in. Best seat in the house.

I love this place. Very sad.

Gojira said...

"stays a quiet, contemplative spot"? Oh, if only, but we all know what it will become. There is no room in this city any more for quiet and contemplation...

RIP, Caffe Dante.

Austin said...

This is always the kiss of death to a good business. When an idot relative takes over and decides the business that survived for almost 100 years is not good enough. He might as well just open something new somewhere else and let the tried and true steam on.

James C. Taylor said...

Always loved the photos of Bruno Conti and Paolo Cannavaro in the window, and the way "ESPRESSO" curves around the sign... This sucks.

Anonymous said...

The espresso has gone down in quality in the past few years but there have been times when I lingered there every day. Love the toasted sandwiches. When current fashion comes to trump the accretion of decades memories associated with places like this city life loses so much of its richness. . .

Gregoire Alessandrini said...

I remember this place being actress Lili Taylor's usual hangout. I met her once over there to give her a picture. One of the few "real" italian cafés that actually existed in NY...To me Reggio or Figaro were always sort of fake...Hopefully the Cafe Dante will keep its original spirit ! GA.

Fed UP! said...

What a stroke of luck that I chose to go there yesterday with another JVNY fan (and we both wish we'd gotten to meet you, Sr. Incognito). It was so nice to be in a quiet place with a unique atmosphere that didn't come out of a corporate office. I will sorely miss this and regret that I've stayed out of NYU territory for so long. That panna cotta was divine….

John Yohalem said...

They won't let you use your laptop there either. Sometimes one regrets that, but ... tradition.

astroboy said...

Everything's gone .The Veeage (french) is officially frat boy heaven now.Long live Santa.com.

Anonymous said...

That "reserved" table is there for large parties. I've sat there with big groups of friends multiple times. They always removed the sign and let us sit there when we showed up with 8-10 people.

Eric said...

Jeremiah - Please give us an update after the redesigned place has been open for awhile. It will be interesting to see if the predictions of doom have come true.

Anonymous said...

Really, please no more news like this. Oh wait, I forgot... maybe the Biebs will show up with his portable party. Or the Kar-sisters. Or whoever the flavor of the month is...in the future, everyone will be able to think for fifteen minutes. (Out of a lifetime.)

Anonymous said...

Anon--
About that "reserved" sign---yes, in the past decade you could sit there, even if it was just two of you. But this was a place frequented by locals, not tourists---and back in the day, the waiters/esses would give you "the look" if you asked about those tables.

Besides it doesn't matter if the riumor was true or not. We all believed it and the rumor had clout. There was a Mafia Social Club a few blocks away---that, I guarantee you---so what's not to "respect"?

This would be from the days when there still was a Little Italy and this was part of it. Long gone.

Macheath48 said...

WHAT???? I know the owners have to make a profit but this is The Village - this is a relic that belongs in a museum so that others can see, and enjoy, what the Village was like before it became a commercial mall. Music in the streets, beatnicks, poetry readings . . . Dante is a haven that cannot be replicated. Please, isn't there some law that prevents it from being "modernized"? Like we protect classic movies and make certain buildings historic monuments, the Dante should be given that same consideration.

laura r. said...

how do you know you wont like it? maybe they need more income. ask if you can have coffee & cake on an off hour? this doesnt seem so bad. find out more. i thought the post was about closing for a cell phone store, or a 7/11. keep on top of this one!

Anonymous said...

Information on Dante which I just learned today. The waitress said they were firing the entire staff in order to hire more 'professional' staff. (This is really angering.)

The façade cannot change, it's historic, and the photos will stay, as will the floors. Ok, a small but meaningful victory. But still canabalistic. Capitalize on the great old bones and monetize it if you can.

They hope to attract the NYU student crowd in the future. They were not bringing in enough business at night. I guess because it wasn't loud and dark and rowdy and frat-like after dark. And I'm sure they will wi-fi it up and it wll now be full of cell voices and ghost screens in the day

And rents more than doubled.

If a business does not own their building, they are screwed in New City.

Jeremiah Moss said...

Thanks for that info, Anon. That sucks about firing the staff. Is it not the son? A new owner?

laura r. said...

i was hoping it would be like a "st. ambrose" kind of place, like the west village. charming, quiet, yes expensive, but coffee cakes in the after noons. when i hear the word NYU, thats a bad sign.

Anonymous said...

Jesus H Christ it's still going to be there. You mean to say they need to change with the times and serve food? And this is the cause of your hysteria? Get a grip!

Goggla said...

I hope they don't suffer the same fate as Polonia, which was taken over by a family member and "improved" right out of business.

Ken Mac said...

Shit no! This is the last bastion of sanity on MacDougal. And of course the younger owner will flush the joint. It's a disease

Anonymous said...

I went in today and had an excellent coffee and cannoli served by a wonderful waitress only to learn that they were closing this weekend for "renovations".

She was not optimistic about whether she would have a job to come back to and everything seemed to be up in the air. She said there is a new partner who is irish american and what that says to me is that it will lose its incredibly authentic italian vibe.


What started out as a lovely morning coffee in one of my favorite places became a sort of funeral.

I was starting to leave and then we along with another patron began lamenting the loss of all of our treasures.

I will never forget it and I am happy I stopped in one last time. I should have come in more over the years. I have made a vow to myself to start enjoying our treasured institutions much more then I currently do.

When they are all gone I will have plenty of time to hit all the "hot spots"

Anonymous said...

This is the saddest recent closing. I can see sprucing up Dante a bit. I can see reworking the menu a bit. Nicer chairs maybe. Sigh . . . but turning it into a restaurant and revamping the whole place makes it . . . just like any other place. I'll be surprised if the new place lasts, oh, a year. However, I would think a few tweaks to the old place and you'd be making money for the next hundred years.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous 4:18! I am the patron who joined you and the waitress in lamenting our losses this morning. I am sad to lose so many great places, but it is nice to know there are still friendly, interesting New Yorkers like you and the sweet waitress we chatted with today.

Anonymous said...

Oh hey so nice talking with you !! it was a sweet moment and one I wish was just a normal interaction between neighbors instead of the constant lament that seems to dominate every conversation these days.

As you said it is nice to know that there are still kind and interesting people around that care about this city and its history and most importantly community.

We can take some solace in the fact that we were able to experience the last days of old new york and there are still vestiges of it. Thats what we need to focus on.

Nice meeting you !

Last New Yorker said...

According to NYCDO no major changes in the works. Contradicts what new owner said about adding kitchen.

http://a810-bisweb.nyc.gov/bisweb/PropertyProfileOverviewServlet?boro=1&houseno=79&street=Macdougal+St&go2=+GO+&requestid=0&restore=1&t10=y

Joseph said...

I remember sitting in Dante when I was 5 or 6 with my mom & dad...I am now 61!

Being a close friend of the owner I can tell you that much of the panic written here is nonsense.

Menu and decor will be updated but this landmark must respond to changes in economy and clientele to survive and grow.

Also, I take great exception at the statement about the "mafia table". My parents were honorable working class locals of Italian
heritage. This table is and always was
reserved for large parties.

I doubt any other racial or ethnic group would allow comments like this to go unchallenged.

Anonymous said...

Last New Yorker, they don't have all of the permits yet. They are planning to add a kitchen and a bar. I suspect it will take longer than a few weeks to get all this work done given that they haven't gotten all the permits yet.

Anonymous said...

Joseph-
Well, it seems I've been an insensitive lout and I do apologize.

I also grew up in the neighborhood from a very young age. And this definitely was the rumor about the table and the experience we had. What can I say?

As a local you must know that all the blocks south of Washington Square were full of both hard working Italian Americans and *also* the mafia. Both. It was never sinister feeling or threatening and we all felt safer because of it---but come on! Every kid I knew had an Uncle who knew a guy.

I miss the old neighborhood like it was a boyfriend, believe me. It was a great place and time to be a kid and a teenager and a young adult. It's very different now. I truly hope the Dante will do just the minimal to make ends meet and not become another NYU fraternity party.

Anonymous said...

If the new owners are reading this thread, I would implore them to save as much of the original decor as possible and to keep the current staff. I understand why you would want to add a new kitchen and add more dishes to the menu, but if this place loses the cafe vibe that made it such a treasure, it will be a shame. It's a wonderful place.

HD said...

I knew something was up last summer when they installed those stupid, claustrophobic logo-ed umbrellas over the tables. Like you needed an umbrella under the awning. And all the logo-ed table accessories sort of indicated a "sell-out" or possibly a need for added income. Sigh, I am so sad.

Alexa Penn said...

There is still The Hungarian Pastry Shop opposite st. john the divine cathedral - i really don't understand this penchant for loud, noisy, large restaurants with music even. you can't hear yourself think, much less someone else. oh, there is also the French Roast on the upper west side on 85th. it's a quiet, smallish coffee place restaurant. maybe 'the son' will go that way. . . but i don't think so. . . sigh

Anonymous said...

So true!

Anonymous said...

I'm a long time Dante regular, some 25 years. It saddens me to witness the changes it is experiencing. The Village is no longer what it once was and it is fast losing its character. As others mentioned above, I truly hope Dante survives in one form or another.

Blade Branstrom said...

Absolutely agreed

Anonymous said...

From high school to college to real life our family has been Dante lovers. We sat at the large "reserved" table with visitors from South American many times. I hope economical they improve as need be but please keep the flavor or you become another Starbucks,
Evelyn

Anonymous said...

I haven't been to Caffe Dante in awhile but have always loved it. I saw a Humans of New York just a minute ago with a photo of the waitress who has been the face of the place for me. Heartbreaking. If you haven't seen the post, you might want to look for it. I wish her well, and all of her colleagues.