Thursday, February 19, 2015

In breaking news, this 100-year-old café either is or isn't closing -- and there's a "waitress with a big mouth" angle!


No, Caffè Dante -- on MacDougal street in the heart of Greenwich Village -- isn't closing. At least not yet.

by Ken

Maybe you have to have reached a certain stage of life to be properly tickled by this story. By which I mean the stage where you recognize that the world is looking at you with a "What do you mean you're not dead?" look on its face. At a certain point you realize the onus is on you to explain your continued failure to shut down operations.

The story is "Caffe Dante Owner Denies 100-Year-Old Restaurant Is Closing," by DNAinfo New York's Danielle Tcholakian. At first glance you might think that this is sort of like some person in authority issuing a formal denial that the sun is closing at the end of the month. Like, who said otherwise?

On closer inspection, though, it turns out that "Caffe Dante Owner Denies 100-Year-Old Restaurant Is Closing," posted at 4:58pm yesterday, was an update to Danielle's 8:52am post, "Caffe Dante Mourned by Regulars Who Recall Decades of Coffee, Camaraderie," which came complete with photos of a couple of the aforementioned decades-of-camaraderie-recalling regulars. The earlier story had reported, under a "Greenwich Village" dateline: "Caffe Dante, a gathering spot for Greenwich Village's formerly thriving Italian community and arts scene, is being sold to new owners and will close, according to reports and staff at the eatery."

Now that really was news. Even if you don't patronize the MacDougal Street storefront much, you would have to be sorry at the thought that a swell joint like that was going belly up. But hey, why would you be surprised? If the joint is old and useful and thought of fondly by its community, why shouldn't it be closing? Doesn't the presumption have to be in the negative? Get the hell out, ancient Caffè! Begone, and make way for . . . well, one doesn't even want to speculate. Go without too big a fuss (wasn't the doubled rent a big enough hint?), and maybe we'll find a way to incorporate your name in the new venture, like maybe "Caffè Dante Condominiums."

Certainly the 8:52am story came with what seemed like plausible bona fides.
The 100-year-old cafe has struggled since its rent at 79-81 MacDougal St. doubled last year, according to the blog Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, which first reported the cafe's impending closure.

The cafe shut down briefly last year to renovate and reboot the menu, but the overhaul apparently was not enough to keep the spot afloat.

Jeremiah's reported that the business was sold to new owners who plan to keep Caffè Dante's name, but the cafe is still set to close as soon as later this month.

Representatives of the building's management company and the Flotta family, who own the cafe, could not immediately be reached for comment. The identity of the new owners was not immediately clear.
Of course our confidence may be shaken just a teensy bit if we note that the "Jeremiah's Vanishing New York" item began:
A year ago, I shared the unsettling news that Caffe Dante would be closing -- and then reopening -- after 99 years on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village. They did just that, reopening in May with a renovated look. It wasn't the same, but it was still Dante, still run by the Flotta family, Mario Jr. and Mario Sr., who took the place over in 1971.

Now, in the year of its 100th birthday, we hear Caffe Dante will really be closing.
Maybe Jeremiah is just the Henny "The Sky Is Falling" Penny of "Caffè Dante is closing" stories. It certainly fits with the "Vanishing New York" theme. Although if you look at Jeremiah's "reopening" report, and the comments, you get the feeling that the revamping of the place -- in which the old tables and chairs were replaced with a banquette and bigger, sturdier tables, a flat-screen TV was put in, and a small full kitchen was added -- may have succeeded in alienating old-time customers without bringing in many new-time ones.

Anyway, eventually the previously unheard-from "Flotta family, who own the cafe" were heard from, in the person of 71-year-old owner Arthur Flotta, who denounced the sale-and-closing report as a "false alarm," saying, "I don't know what they're talking about. We're going to be here for a while yet."

How long a while? Hard to tell, but one's confidence isn't bolstered by a denial that comes in this form:
Flotta called the reports of a sale "a false alarm," and said he has made no arrangements to sell the business "at this time."

"Nothing has been done as yet," he said, repeatedly insisting there is no sale in the works.
Okay, no sale in the works, repeatedly insisted" -- at least not at this time. If this seems a trifle unclear, we'll achieve greater (if not ultimate) clarity in a moment.

Meanwhile, the obvious question is: Where might such a story have come from? And this may be my favorite detail in the episode. It doesn't quite purport to explain where the story came from, which is apparently some still-unidentified "lunatic." But it does finger the person responsible for the rumor's spread. Whodunnit? Well, who you would you expect? It's the waitress with a big mouth. You know the type, right?
Flotta added that his staff was wrong to tell reporters and customers that the restaurant would close and attributed the rumor's spread within his establishment to a waitress with "a big mouth."

"She misunderstood," Flotta said. "I don't know where she heard it from."

"Whoever started this rumor is a lunatic," Flotta added.

A staff member working at the restaurant on Wednesday said she was too busy to talk to a reporter. 
No indication whether this staff member was by chance the actual waitress with a big mouth.

Now, I promised you come clarification in the matter of a Caffè Dante will-it-or-won't-it sale. Here goes:
Flotta repeatedly promised that the restaurant "won't be closed," but he did not completely disavow the possibility of selling the business.

"Anything is for sale if the price is right," Flotta said.
If your first impulse on hearing of the impending closing of Caffè Dante was to start stockpiling coffee and pastries, you may want to keep that plan at the ready. Or just wait for the sale offering of those Caffè Dante Condos. (Disclaimer: This is not a report, or even a rumor. If you look above, you'll see that I just made it up. However, in the event that it actually eventuates, remember where you heard it first.)

The "Appetizers" portion of the posted menu pdf for the revamped Caffè Dante. Grub Street's Hugh Merwin reported last June that "the hangout spot . . . has added cocktails and menu items like gnocchi and pizza to round out its gelati and well-loved ricotta cheesecake and tiramisu" -- and "still turns out a strong cup" of espresso, for which the place won "best espresso" honors from New York Magazine in 1985.

Labels: ,


At 12:56 AM, Anonymous ap215 said...

Check this out this might have something to do with the closings.

At 3:28 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Interesting thought, Ap -- thanks!

I didn't make a connection to this new wave of buildings-related corruption charges, and I'm not sure there is one. (I'm straining to imagine a scenario where it accounts for the confusion as to whether Caffè Dante is or isn't being sold. And the recent rent doubling would sure go a long way toward explaining CD's financial crunch.) But I sure wouldn't rule it out!

After all, Peeps With Hands Out (and Pockets Open) is one of the things that makes NYC go 'round!



Post a Comment

<< Home