“Nothing lasts forever,” the Buddha tells us, and that’s true of people, life, and certainly cities. I know that impermanence is the only thing we can be sure of, but when I spend time in Greenwich Village my heart beats out little prayers of gratitude for all the cafés and coffeehouses and jazz clubs that have held on through the years, keeping the flame of the Village’s bohemian character alight, however faintly.
True, lemmings are lined up outside [insert trendy dessert establishment du jour] for the chance to eat a cup of $10 fucking cookie dough or some other such nonsense, but in Washington Square Park one can still find bluegrass musicians, performance artists, protesters, families, and sentimental flaneurs and flaneuses like me who are contented simply to stroll slowly, taking everything in (preferably while eating a good old-fashioned ice cream cone, thankyouverymuch).
My favorite Village locales, from 55 bar to Corner Bistro to Mezzrow to Caffe Reggio, all share a certain timeless quality: if you squint a little, it’s easy to imagine you’re in Greenwich Village circa just about any decade from the 1930s to the present day. Caffe Vivaldi, a soft-spoken little haunt tucked away on Jones Street, is no exception.
A grand piano takes up most of the front of the room at Vivaldi. Portraits of various classical composers hang on the walls, watching over the patrons, who are a microcosm of Greenwich Village itself: an elderly couple in the far corner shares a bottle of wine and quietly discusses the play they’ve just seen at the Lucille Lortel Theater while a few NYU students rowdily talk politics over beers at their communal table; a lone tourist sits near the door nursing a cup of coffee and, brow furrowed, studies a subway map as (ahem) a jazz singer gets her music in order before her set. The café’s ember-glow light and the music being played inside—folk or jazz or classical or singer-songwriter—spill onto the sidewalk, causing passersby to stop and peer inside. “Let’s go in and have a drink,” they say, delighted to have (accidentally) “discovered” the place.
Proprietor Ishrat Ansari has presided over Caffe Vivaldi for thirty-five years. With the time-tested tools of food and wine, music, and hospitality, Ishrat has created much more than a café. He’s provided a haven for all of us who love Old New York and the culture of Greenwich Village.
Over the course of the past several years, Caffe Vivaldi has staved off a 400% rent increase and a heartbreaking litany of legal and financial attacks by a convicted felon whom the attorney general once called “the Bernie Madoff of landlords.” Ishrat suffered a stroke smack dab in the middle of this long and contentious battle and his recovery has impeded his ability to keep fighting. Enough was, eventually, enough. In a tale that has grown all too familiar, a(nother) beloved and vibrant institution is being shuttered thanks to greed and corruption.
As both patron and performer, I will miss Caffe Vivaldi and the Greenwich Village spirit it embodies. Before Caffe Vivaldi closes its doors on June 23, I plan to stop by, listen to some music, and raise a glass to Ishrat Ansari’s vision and steadfastness. I invite—nay, urge—you to do the same.