Greenwich Village is my favorite neighborhood in Manhattan. It is home to some of the city’s best restaurants and bars, its old-world manhattan aura is preserved by vintage shops and original architecture, and NYU’s “campus” keeps things young and somewhat irreverent.
Central to the neighborhood is MacDougal St. A vibrant, yet somewhat bizarre collection of stores, falafel stands, and comedy clubs. On any given evening, you will find waves of tourists, locals, and college kids roaming around from place to place. Within the chaos, lies some pretty iconic food establishments: Minetta Tavern, Mamoun’s Falafel, and Artichoke Pizza to name a few. There are also some hidden gems; and a friend and I stumbled across one this past week.
Tucked in the northern corner of the street, adjacent to the entrance of Washington Square Park is a small Italian cafe by the name of: La Lanterna Di Vittorio. We entered via an elevated stoop and as I walked in the door, I felt like I was transported into a coffee bar from the 60’s. Tiny candlelit tables dot the small front room and a barista station and desert refrigerator serves as a divider to the massive outdoor garden in the back which seats most of the cafe’s patrons. Finally, a narrow staircase to the right of the garden entrance leads to a subterranean jazz bar.
There was a certain mystique about this place. Maybe it was the music from another era dribbling out of the speakers, maybe it was the fact that we were perched over a crowded village street, or perhaps its because this is one of those few places in New York thats hasn’t changed in a long time and does not intend to any time soon.
One thing that struck me were the various names. “La Lanterna di Vittorio” stands for “Victor’s Lantern”. That is the name on the awning, so one would assume, the name of the establishment. However, the business card calls it “The Fireside Caffe”, their website calls it “La Lanterna Caffe” and the jazz bar below, also part of the restaurant, is titled “The Bar Next Door”. When I asked the waitress about the disjointed nomenclature, specifically about why it was called “The Fireside Caffe”, she simply said: “Because we have a fireplace”. It was just this sort of quirkiness that made this place special.
Once we were seated, two leather-bound menus thudded onto the table. There were 8-10 laminated pages, the first two dedicated to food, the rest to cocktails, hot beverages, and desserts. The food menu was what you might expect of an Italian cafe; soups, salads, crostinis, panninis, charcuterie, cheeses, and pizza.
After cocktail orders were in, we decided on a couple of the small 10” pizzas- the classic Margherita, and the Pizza con Gorgonzola e Noci (Gorgonzola, Walnuts, and Olive Oil). 20 minutes later we were sinking our teeth into some pretty respectable thin-crust pies. They had that nice char on the bottom from a coal or wood-fired oven and were made with some high-quality ingredients. I can’t say this was the best pizza I’ve had in the village, but it was certainly praiseworthy. Several cocktails and a few slices later, after somewhat reluctantly refusing dessert, our waitress brought along some chocolate grappa on the house to cap off the night. Delicioso!
Needless to say, this experience was more about the atmosphere than the food. The ever expanding and ever changing food scene in New York has brought a lot of uncertainty to places like these, but I hope Victor’s Lantern (or whatever it’s called) sticks around for a while, because I would like to come back! Come here for a light meal, a nightcap, and some good conversation.