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Jun 11, 2008 01:48 PM

Another nail in the Greenwich Village coffin

It is with much regret that I read (10 days late) about the closing of Cafe Figaro, 184-186 Bleecker Street. While long past its glory days as a beat generation hangout and perennial homebase to artists, musicians, authors and students, Cafe Figaro was nothing less than a Village landmark and counter-culture institution. The list of "regulars" throughout its history is quite remarkable, including iconic personalities such as Bill Cosby, Bob Dylan and Gore Vidal.
I've witnessed a lot of changes to the intersection of Bleecker St. at MacDougal over past 15 years (though the changes began earlier than that, among them the closing of cafes San Remo and Borgia-most recently known as Carpo's and Ciao), but the persistence of this neighborhood stalwart remained a source of nostalgic comfort to those of us who relish the area's rich history in the arts and tradition of nurturing creative talent. As passionate as I am about food, I cringe a little when I hear about an old bookshop closing down to make room for a gelateria.

The food at Figaro hasn't been worth mentioning for years. But the food was hardly the point: it was the Euro air and feel of the place, the abundant sidewalk seating in prime people-watching territory (as well as the endless variations on cappuccino) that kept it going for so long. As a college student in the '90s, I chose this very intersection for the subject of my field study project for a cultural anthropology course (and ate more French bread grilled cheese sandwiches with dijon-tossed greens than I care to recall), and I guess I had developed an even greater affection for the area than I thought.

The closing of the bohemian Figaro may be more of a cultural loss than a gastronomic one, but it's a sign of the culinary times, nonetheless.

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  1. i hear u to a degree...i mean if they replaced it with a starbucks or something it definitely leaves something to be desired, but honestly alot of the places like cafe figaro need to be replaced by something new (and good) b/c bad food doesnt add much to the neighborhood. In fact, I even view those type of places as freeloaders b/c they're living off a reputation made a long time consider somewhere like veniero's like that...where the food is crap, but people still go b/c of a reputation made decades ago

    4 Replies
    1. re: Lau

      I don't disagree entirely. However, Figaro expanded a couple of times over the years and the current space is huge. I am afraid it will end up another sterile bank branch.
      As far as Veniero's goes, I agree that its mostly crap. But I would hate to see it close. I guess my foodie nature is diluted somewhat by my overly-sentimental instinct. Then there's also the fact that I doubt anything that opened in that space would add to the overall richness of the area the way that Veniero's (or Figaro, for that matter) has.

      1. re: vvvindaloo

        yeah i know what u mean, but i think the only truly sad closings are the ones where something like mei lai wah, which was not only an institution, but an institution that turned out some really great food close down b/c that is something sad and something i lament

        1. re: Lau

          Well, you know how upsetting it was for me when MLW closed, and there's no comparison between the level of food they served with that of Figaro (these days, at least). But perhaps you'd be a little bit more sad to see Figaro go away if you'd spent as much time there as I have :)

          1. re: vvvindaloo

            yeah i went to college in that area, so thats probably the only reason i know why it was somewhat of a landmark although i think u went there before me b/c i didnt show up in ny til the 2000s

    2. You are right to note the closing of Le Figaro as being "more of a cultural loss than a gastronomic one", but it really is the owners of these establishments that are to blame.

      I knew Le Fig was slated to close so my wife and I went there for brunch one morning a couple of weeks ago. Sort of a goodbye meal.
      We got pieces of metal shavings mixed into the eggs we ordered and that's not the only reason the food was inedible.

      The real shame here is that the place stayed open until well beyond its ability to function as a restaurant.

      That said, I also miss when the old-school places close.

      1 Reply
      1. re: il Trifulau

        You are absolutely correct about its inability (and seeming ambivalence) to operating as a bona fide restaurant. I would have been happy to see it shrink down to an espresso bar.

      2. I believe (but my memory could have failed me) that the original Le Figaro closed in the early 70s and was then reincarnated in a more nostalgia/commercial form several years later. So (if I am right about the dates) the new one has been around for 30 years or so, but it never was really like the relatively short-lived original. This version required at least diner quality food. It didn't even rise to that level.