In the late 80’s I was in New York for a short break and on a casual stroll came across a small cafe, with wrought iron tables and an certain charm that I found familiar…
I looked at the sign and it said in bold letters, Cafe Reggio. Let’s have a look, I told myself. And I went in. As I walked in I noticed an old fashioned bench like back home, where the Italians would take their espresso, shoot it down and walk away feeling buzzed. The locale had old fashioned photos on the walls and what seemed to be a refined clientele. In the pictures I recognised the famous Aragonese castle of Reggio, some other older photos from the turn of the century, and a panorama of the Strait. I approached the counter and requested to speak with the owner.
A man in casual dress appeared, he was tall with black hair and black eyes, and around 35 years in age. He looked Calabrese. So, I spoke to him in Italian, he apologised and replied to me in English. Realising that I was curious of the origins of the bar and the inspiration, he informed me that he was the 4th owner of the cafe, and was not Regginian. He went on to tell me of how the cafe was founded 60 years ago by an Italian from the city of Reggio Calabria and that he, as did his predecessors, chose to keep the original name and decor. I ordered a rather delicious coffee and had a look around. The cafe was elegant, simple, and much nicer than so many other “Italian” bars that try too hard to be genuine. I had lived in Toronto and New York and had never experienced a cafe that reminded me so much of my home town, the original is always the best.
One thing that did strike me as strange was that the workers were anything but Italian. No Italian was spoken and the patrons were even drinking cappuccino’s at 4pm, which is strange and a taboo of sorts in any town in Italy. I did however feel pride in knowing that in a corner of my adopted city, and a beautiful district of New York, Mr Domenico Parisi of Reggio Calabria had loved his hometown enough that he had dedicated this cafe to it. In 1927 he had opened Cafe Reggio in homage to his Italian home. Some time ago I discovered that Cafe Reggio still exists today, and also has a website.
Through the site you can also admire historical photos of Reggio and take a virtual tour of the cafe as it appears now (http://www.caffereggio.com). The decor has changed, updated, but still truly southern Italian. There is a modern showcase of sweets and treats, sandwiches and such. The photos of the city have gone. But the name will always be the same. Several photo agencies have historical pictures of the cafe as it used to be, as it is now considered an Institution in Greenwich Village.
Visit Cafe Reggio.
New York, 119 MacDougal Street.