Based in Toronto and New York City

, Nancy Matsumoto is a writer and editor who covers sustainable agriculture, food, sake, arts and culture.

WestView Readers Nominate Their Favorite Former Haunts

By Nancy Matsumoto

Julia Keen wrote, “Two of our favorite restaurants have closed down after many, many, many years in the Village due to rent increases and landlords choosing not to renew leases. Joe Jr. had a four-day notice that they had to move out. What a crime.” Keen also misses The Village on 9th Street off of Sixth Avenue.

Leroy Street’s Lily Hou nominated the former Zito’s Bread on Bleecker Street.

Tim and Todd, West Village residents since 1995, nominated Sapore, Chez Brigitte and Mama Buddha.

On the subject of Chez Brigitte, we received this poetic paean to the former lunch counter from the soon-to-be 90-year-old Vincent Livelli, a former dancer and cruise director, close friend to writer Anatole Broyard and lifelong Village resident:

Back in 1994, Brigitte Catapano, the owner of Chez Brigitte, a tiny French bistro at 77 Greenwich Avenue, retired to Florida, leaving her assistant, Madame Rosa Santos, to carry on. Chez Brigitte survived for fifty years, from 1958 until June 5, 2008.

With no tables, back-to-back counters and elbow-to-elbow swivel stools, this closet-sized eatery seated eleven. You were eating en famille at prices that changed little over the years. Tasty French bread, oil and vinegar, a grated cheese dispenser at your seat, began a dinner for $9 that included boeuf Bourguignon in red wine sauce, roasted potatoes, carrots, sweet peas, or macaroni salad. The pois cassés (split pea) soup with onions and croutons was a classic. In 1982, entrees began at $6.50. “Eating out” at Chez Brigitte was “eating at home.”

Surrounded by giants like the nearby Waverly Inn, Morandi, Sant Ambroeus and Bruxelles, Chez Brigitte (originally from Marseilles) was one tough cookie. In a rough racket, she was in a class of her own. The last owner, Mr. Jose M. Lito, from Asturias, Spain, took a loss after having remodeled the tiny bistro, but it was the Villagers who were fed there over the years and the Village itself that share his loss as well.

Pabulum (food, in Latin) is the first taste of life at the breast. Bitter or sweet, raw life is refined with our reasoning and our seasoning. Perhaps the concept of a soul arose from the smell of cooking as it floated invisibly, seductively, attaching itself to us. The redolent scent in the closet of your lover’s fragrance, like a second presence, or the organic comfort from warm food is a taste that lingers.

To handle a menu or wine list with finesse shows a traveler who has tasted and known well a world he respects. The French celebrate culinary creativity, as do the Chinese. But there is a dark side to all this. Aside from plating, price service, etc., there is obesity, butchery, swinish gluttony, messes, burns, waste, not to mention blood, Jell-O, and snobbery that talks about the rusticity of the Peruvian purple potato, for example.

Where we once hunted for sustenance on dangerous missions, food is today brought to us upon command. Where we once poured a libation on the ground for the gods, we can now overindulge in an otherwise raw world. Come eat, for the ice-carved centerpiece drips tears as its fragile beauty washes away before our eyes. What finer garden is there than the food marketplace that displays nature’s fertility and fragrant harvest? The bedtime snack pacifier finalizes our day like a good-night kiss. Where a cruise ship can be called a “floating bedroom” the cozy “table in the corner” leads us traditionally to encores of ever more satisfying desserts.

Our restaurants are the candles glowing in the windows of our neighborhoods after dark. Like local parishes for our spiritual needs, they replenish an organic emptiness. They are a second-removed family kitchen. Grandpa’s chair sits empty at the head of the table after he is gone. Where we begin with bowed heads, we can end with toasts to life. When at a table we are as though around a tribal campfire.

Who remembers the soda fountain at Bigelow’s Pharmacy with its double malted with two straws?

The San Remo, like Chez Brigitte, lasted for fifty years. Unlike Mr. Lito, who surrendered to hiked rent, the Santini brothers sold the San Remo for a huge profit. The Remo and Chez Brigitte deserve plaques. Neither displayed photos on the wall, like Minetta Tavern’s prize-fight gallery. If the Remo had, the photos would have shown a collection of all-star literati as your brains were fed. Chez Brigitte nourished your stomach and spared your purse with a touch of humor: For these reasons, she takes the cake.

Hudson Street resident Victoria Schweizer sent us a sad/wonderful collage of empty Village storefronts, which said more in one visual than the proverbial thousand words. Included in the collage are Village businesses that have shut down in the last year.

Colleen Goujjane, proprietor of One if by Land, Two if by Sea, the 17 Barrow Street mainstay, wrote, “It’s so unfortunate to read that so many wonderful restaurants can no longer afford these outrageous rents, the good news is, One if by Land, Two if by Sea will be here to stay, we own our building. We invite our neighbors to stop by for a lovely dinner or just have a drink at the bar and listen to our live piano player. We also have live jazz at Sunday brunch. Please let us know that you are a WestView neighbor and we will roll out the red carpet for you!”

Keep your letters and comments coming to vanishingvillage@gmail.com.

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