Greenwich Village, New York
I was sitting there at Caffe Reggio. It’s an old Caffe in Greenwich Village, New York, once the World Center of Bohemia, the Beats and Beatniks. Now? I don’t know what it is now, other than despite the neighborhood going down as a result of greedy New York Landlords that keep raising the price of rents to ridiculously absurd price-points, where only the rich can afford them. Mostly all all the cool old restaurants, cafes, funky boutiques, and record shops have mostly all been pushed out of their stores by insanely high commercial rents that barley anyone can afford. It’s the same for commercial spaces and apartments, people just can’t afford them. Except the rich. But this is not what this is about. How the hell did I go off on that tangent? Oh yeah, I was talking about Caffe Reggio.
Thankfully there are a few good old restaurants, cafes, and nightclubs left, Caffe Reggio is one, merely because the owner of Caffe Reggio (Maurizio) owns the building that he inherited from his father. Lucky him, and lucky us that he owns the building, he loves his historical caffe and has no intention of ever closing it. Who knows what will happen one day when he is gone. Hopefully that day is quite a long way off. It’s a long way off since the time that I, as a young boy of 16 first walked into Caffe Reggio way back in 1974. I was still living in Jersey back then. I was into photography (a hobby) and I used to love hopping on a bus in Carlstadt, New Jersey, and heading into the city (New York, NY). I had always loved the City, ever since the first few times my dad drove in, and we were there, New York City. The place was electrifying to me, a young boy from Jersey, and growing up in 1960’s and 70’s America. I was into all sorts of things as a boy. I loved all sports, and played baseball, basketball, and football all the time. And I do mean a lot. And if I wasn’t watchinging one of the 3 major sports of America, I was watching them on TV, the Met’s, the Yankees, the New York Football Giants, The Olympics, and every Saturday at 4 o’clock for years, I watched ABC’s Wide World of Sports with Jim McKay, Howard Cossell, Frank Gifford, Curt Gowdy, and others. They had all sorts of sports that they broadcasted and I loved them all, from: Boxing, to Skiing, Car Racing, Demolition Derby’s and more.
I loved music, listening to the radio, playing with my friends, watching TV, and going for rides in the car with my Dad. My childhood wasn’t always easy, my mother was mentally ill, and my parents had spit up when we were very young. No it wasn’t always easy, but I was a dreamer and dreamt of big things in my future, and I was always full of hope for things I might achieve.
Let me get back to Caffe Reggio. Well very briefly, I’ll keep it short. As I’ve said, I loved photography, so I loved as a teeanager, hopping on the # 35 Bus and going into the city. The bus would take me into The Port Authority Bus Terminal, and I’d make my way down the escalators to the subway, and hop on an A Train that would take me down to Greenwich Village, where I loved hanging out at Washington Square Park, watching all the street performers (Musicians, jugglers, etc.) and taking pictures with my 35mm Camera, and just having a good time. After I hung out in the park for a couple hours, I’d walk around the Village a bit, shooting some shots and making discoveries. Then I’d head over to Caffe Reggio for my Cappuccino, sit there relaxing, dreaming, and watching the world go by. I just loved it. I thought I was cool. And guess what? I was. Sometimes I’d go to The Riviera Cafe for a bowl of Chili, and to hang out. Again, just watching the world go by. Just a couple blocks from the park, there was a place I loved, called The Unique Clothing Warehouse, that sold cheap funky clothes, some army surplus, and all sorts of funky things that a teenager in the 70s would love. I did. The first thing I ever bought there was a small Norwegian Army canvas bag for just $1.99, I loved it. It was just the right size to put my camera, a pen, small writing pad, and a few other things into.
Long before my teenage forays into Greenwich Village I dreamed of moving to New York City one day. And in particular, I dreamed of living in Greenwich Village. And guess what? I did. I moved to New York City in December of 1982, to a 2 bedroom apartment with my good friends Jay Fahy. We were very good friends and we both wanted to live in the city. I was already working at a restaurant for almost two years, John’s of 12th Street, a famous old-school Italian Restaurant on East 12th Street in the East Village of New York. A checked out a few apartments and I got lucky when I was able to get a 2 bedroom apartment through a girl I knew (Marta) that I met at John’s. Marta’s mother had gotten an apartemnt for hers son, who shared it with another guy. They ended up living there for only 6 months and wanted to move out. Lucky for me, Mrs. Lagostz let me take the apartment over, though the Witch of a Landlord, Mrs. Schlesinger agreed that I could live there, she wouldn’t put me on the lease, and I had to pay her every month with a Money Order, instead of a check. This was ilegal. She descrimated against me simply because of my age, even though, I’ve always made my own money, I’ve always worked and had a job, and I’ve always paid my rent. Anyway, Jay and I moved into 131 Avenue A, at the corner pf Saint Mark’s Place in December of 1982. We were young guys. I was 24 at the time, and Jay was a couple years older. He had finished Law School, passed the Bar Exam, and became a US Attorney out of Jerset City, New Jersey, He took the Path to work everyday. It was about a 12 minute walk from Avenue A and St Mark’s to get to the Path Station at the corner of 6th Avenue and West 9th Street. Then wait for the train to come and take the 15 minute ride to Jersey City. It was quite good for Jay, and even more ideal for me. I worked 3 nights a week at John’s which was just a short 5 block walk from our apartment. The rent was super cheap, just $400 a month when we started in 1982. Even when I moved out 11 years later, when I got an apartment through Mario Flotta (the owner of Caffe Dante), I was only paying $650 a month rent. I probably should have stayed there, and never left. The problem was the old witch landlored wouldn’t put me on the lease, and because of that I never felt completey secure living there, even though I did, for a substancial 11 years. I get into the details of how and why I left later.
So Jay and I moved in together. We had good times. We did our own thing each, and we’d go out to the local bars and clubs together as well. So, as I said, I was working 3 nights a week at John’s on 12th Street, working as a waiter and bartender, but that wasn’t my only job. I was actually aspiring to become a chef, so I worked cooking in restaurants full time. I’d get a job cooking during the day (4 days), and usually had to cook one dinner shift a week, so I was able to work at John’s. I work 2 jobs for 7 years, always working at John’s those 3 night s a week and cooking during the day full time. Some days I’d have to be into work at 9:30 am to cook the lunch shift or do prep work. I’d work to 4 o’clock, run out of work, hop on a train (Subway) downtownm, get off the train, run home, hop in the shower, then run the 5 blocks to John’s and wait tables until about 12 Midnight. I’d get out of work, then go to some club for a couple hours before going home., always looking for love, and just having good times with friends. As they say, “I worked hard, and played hard.” I was in my twenties and I could do it back then.
I had some good friends and when I had time I’d go out for dinner, to bars, and clubs each and every week. Some of my favorite bars back in those days were in the East Village, in my very own neighborhood. Probably my favorite was the Holiday Lounge, just a block from my apartement on St Marks Place just a few feet west of 1st Avenue. It was a cool neighborhood East Village Bar, owned by Stephon, a Ukrainian man in his mid 60s I think. The place had a good jukebox, a cool vibe, and best of all I could get a Stoli & Grapefruit (my favorite Cocktail) for just $3 .. Jay loved the place too, and when his brother Richie, and our friends Carlo Cavallo, and Phil Jones would come into the city to visit us, Jay and I would always bring them to The Holiday Lounge and The Pyramid Club on Avenue A. We had lots of great times.
The Holiday Lounge was a great place to go and get prime on a $3 drink, before heading over to one of the Clubs of the day, where drinks were a lot more expensive than the bargain drinks a the Holiday. “Thanks Stephon.” The hot clubs of the day, were The Mudd Club on White Street, Area, The Tunnel, The Undergorund (Union Square), Danceteria, and The Paladium. There was also Underchine which was under The hot Vietnamese Restaurant Indochine, Carmelitas (On Tuesday Nights), The World (Frank Riccio), The Purple Barge, and few other places that might have been hot for a few months, but faded fast and went out of business.
Yes I had great times in my twenties living in New York’s Eats Village, playing hard and working much harder. I worked hard so I could buy good clothes, goo out to eat, and to bars, and clubs, and so after working hard all year long, I could go to Italy every Summer, to Rome, Venice, Positano, Capri, and Spain, and the SOuth of French, on The French Riviera. I busted my butt to do these thing, and I loved it. Working full time cooking in restaurants as a line cook or prep cook, at the time, by the time I paid taxes, I would bring home just about $350 a week. To pay rent (Jay moved out after 1 year), buy clothes, feed myself, go out to eat and have good times, and take my trip to Italy, and some years, a week in Paris in the Winter, I worked those 3 night a week at John’s and made about $400 a week for those 3 nights, so I was pulling in between $700 to $800 a week. Unfortunely I spent most of it, and didn’t really save much in those years, but as I’ve said, I was young and wanted to have a good time. I worked hard jsut so I could do that, so? I do wish I would have saved a little more in those years, but what did I no. I come from a family that didn’t have much, and now that I was an adult and making my own money, I was going to live the good life. And I learned a loit from my travels and doing all the things I did in those formative years of my 20s and 30s. Experiences to last a lifetime.
Some of places I cooked at during those 7 years were : 24 Fifth with Chef Michel Fitousi who was at the time “The King of Nouvelle Cooking” in New York. Michel was really goo to me. I also worked with him at The Palace Restaurant before that (most wxpensive Restuarant in NYC), and at The Stanhope Hotel. I also cooked at Woods on Madison, and Caio Bella Restaurant, and the Odeon with the late great Chef Patrick Clarke, whose uncle was one of my Professors at New York Technical College (Brooklyn), in The Hotel Restaurant Mgt. & Culinart Arts Department of the College.
The reason for working a number of jobs during those 7 years, for those who might not know, when you aspire to become a Chef, you shouldn’t stay with just one restaurant and one chef the first few years you are learning the trade of cooking. You should work about a year at each restaurant with a renowned, skilled chef, then move on to another restaurant, with another great chef, and that’s exactly what I did. I worked with 3 really great chefs. As I’ve already stated, I worked with Patrick Clarke at The Odeon and Cafe Luxenbourg, and with the great Michel Fitousi. I originally wanted to just cook French Food, which I was trained in at Culinary School at New York Tech College. AMoung our numerous textbooks, the most famous was the Escofier Cookbook and Louis Diat’s as well. We had a professor, Professor Ahrens who would always instill in us that we had the Escofier Cookbook as our textbook, and that he was the greatest Chef of All-Time in the history of the World and Culinary Arts, and that we were fortunate to be getting such a great education in the French Culinary Arts, and learning how to cook dishes by Escoffier himself, and to be getting a solid knowledge of French Haute Cuisine, the greatest cuisine in the entire World.
Yes I loved cooking French Food, and I did, but after going to Italy for the first time in 1985, and being of Italian Heritage myself, and Italian Restaurants and authentic Italian Cucisine becoming all the rage in the 1980s, I decided that I wanted to learn how to cook great Italian Food, and so I sought out a great Italian Chef to work with, and to learn authentic Italian Cuisine. Again, I did just that. I applied to 3 great Italian Restaurants with 3 great chefs. I ended up getting offered a job by all 3, but Chef Pasquale at Caio Bella was the first to offer me a job and I took it. Ciao Bella was a hot restaurant at the time. I started working, cooking lunch 4 days a week and 1 dinner. I started learning from Pasquale. Within 2 weeks, the Chef at Arcqua offered me a job, and Chef Sandro at Sandro’s on 59th offered me a job as well, but I already started working with Chef Pasquale at Ciao Bella and I was happy there.
Chef Pasquale taught me how to make a great Ragu Bolognese, Lasagna Bolognese, a tasty Salsa Pomodoro, Timaballo, Gnocchi, a great Pasta Fagioli, Risotto, and other Italian Classics. My boss was Enrico Proetti from Nettuno, Italy, and I’ve stayed friends and stayed in-touch with Enrico to this very day, 24 years later and will beyond that. With my skills in Classical French Cuisine, and my new skills, and dishes taught to me by Chef Pasquale, I was gaining quite a good repetoire of food, and learning more and more of the cusine of Italy.
Durng those years I had a few girlfiends, including Iris, Isabelle, Merceditas, Dante, and a few other girlfriends in-between. I started going to Iatly most years, with trips to Paris in-between. I was living and learning about life, working hard, and getting all sorts of experiences.
I met Iris in 1981 before I moved into New York. I fell madly in love with here. She was a gorgeous Peruvian girl. I was mad about her. She had style and grace, and the love making between us was amazing. I never loved any woman in my life the way I loved Iris. She broke up with me after about a year and a half together and I was absolutley crushed. I wanted to marry her. I loved her that much. I was devasted when she brok up with me. I carried a hard torch for Iris for 6 years. After we split up, I went on a tear. I went out with as many women as I could. I thought I was a Playboy, and wanted to make love to beautiful women whenever I could, but I never ever fell in love with any woman they way I loved Iris, and I never ever felt like getting married to any other woman other than Iris, and I never did. I never got married, and as of this writing in 2022, I am not married, I never did get married, and most likely I probably will not ever get married. But who knows? Maybe one day I will. Highly unlikely, but not impossible. It was never really in my heart to get married, other than when I was madly in love with Iris. Though not in my heart, it is in my mind, sort of to get married one day, for I’m worried when I get older, and although I’ve taken care of myself and been on my own since I was just 19 years old, I do know that maybe I shoudl get married and not be alone when I get old (I’m 64 now). Will it ever happen? Who knows?
Yes I was seeing a few girls all the time. I met Isabelle one day in 1983. Her friend Ilma had a Venezuelan Restaurant on 2nd Avenue where I first met Isabelle. It was The 11 Cafe, the 1st ever Venezuelan Restaurant in New York City. I always loved trying new cusines from all around the World, and when this new Venezuelan place opened in the East Village, I wanted to go and check it out, so I went in one night on a night I wasn’t working at John’s. I sat down at the counter and this gorgeous wome says hello and is waiting on me. I was instantlay smitten. She was tall, thin, and gorgeous. He name was Isabelle, and she was helfping her friend Ilma at the restaurant. I ate my first Venezuelan food ever. I think I had Pabellon that night. It’s a palte of Rice & Beans, with fried Sweet Plantains and Carne Mecahda (Braised Shredded Beef). I was geat. I talked to Isabelle and was smitten as I’ve already stated. I wanted to go out with her, but I didn’t ask her out that night. I went back a couple nights later, and Isabelle was there. We chatted, I had some Arepas, and the vibe was good, and I was shocked when I asked Isabelle if she wanted to go out on a date, she said “Yes, I’d Love to,” I couldn’t beleive it.
A play on Broadway at the time was 9, which was based on Felini’s film 8 1/2 … The play starred Lilianne Montevecchi and Segio Franchi. I asked Isabelle if she would like to go. She was thrilled, and so I got a pair of tickets for us. The night of the paly I went up to 87th Street to pick Isabelle up and go tot he show. When I got to her apartment, “Wow,” again I was mesmerized. She had a big beautiful apartment, the kind that at the time I could no way afford, and could only dream about. I was both impressed and thrilled. I can’t remember if I found out at The 11 Cafe that Isabell was a top model for Oscar de la Renta or not. It probably was.
Isabelle made me a drink, and we had a nice time before heading out to go see the Broadway Play “9” … Anyway, Isabelle and I hit it off and became a couple. I loved her, and we had a lot of good times toghether, going to her Venezuelan friends parties (many), going out to the best restaurants around town, naking dinner at her place, hanging out at The 11 Cafe, going to The Village Gate, to a Tina Truner Concert, to Studio 54, and what not. We had lots of good times. I went to all her show she did for Oscar de la Renta, and other runway shows she worked throught the Ellen Harth and Ford Agencies.
We dated for a year and a half and I was surpised it lasted that long, but in the end, it fizzled out. I’m glad that Isabelle and I had those times together. Sadly Isabelle had liver problems and passed away at a young age in 1999. I think of her often. God Bless you Isabelle, and rest in peace my dear. I always remeber you and our times together. Danny
to be Continued ….
In Washington Square Park
Phillipe Petite walks a Tight Rope
Over The CATHEDRAL of SAINT JOHN The DEVINE
AMERICA’S FAVORITE FOODS
BURGERS STEAK TACOS
Phillipe Petit Walks on a tight Rope between The TWIN TOWERS
“Balls of Steel”
New York City
August 7, 1974
Phillipe Petit TWIN TOWERS Tight Rope Walk
Petit became known to New Yorkers in the early 1970s for his frequent tightrope-walking performances and magic shows in the city parks, especially Washington Square Park. Petit’s most famous performance was in August 1974, conducted on a wire between the roofs of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, New York City, USA, 400 metres (1,312 feet) above the ground. The towers were still under construction and had not yet been fully occupied. He performed for 45 minutes, making eight passes along the wire, during which he walked, danced, lay down on the wire, and saluted watchers from a kneeling position. Office workers, construction crews and policemen cheered him on.
MAN on WIRE