13 February 2007

Vesuvio's Second Life

I stopped by the landmark Vesuvio Bakery on Prince Street in Soho the other day. I'm ashamed to say this is the first time I've visited since longtime owne and community activist Tony Dapolito died in July 2003. Prior to then, I saw the place quite often as I had a pal who lived in a sublet in the same building. Dapolito used to accept packages for him. I remember the sparten glory of the place. From outside, windows filled with bread; from inside, shelves filled with bread. No decor. The business was bread and Vesuvio was all business.

It's not a bakery anymore, though I gather they still make bread and some of it is displayed in the window. Christine Gigante and her sister-in-law, Lisa Gigante, bought it from Tony just before he died. I believe they're still in charge. It's now a cafe, with four tables lining the left-hand wall and a counter on the right. Panini, cannoli, coffee and tea are available. It's pleasant enough and free of Soho hauteur, mainly due to no-frills, no-nonsense help in the form of a loud, short blonde woman of obvious Italian, working-class stock. Hearing her recite at the top of her lungs the types of available teas to a woman on the other side of the room was hilarious: "Earl Grey! Mint! Lemon Zinger!"

Another plus is you get to linger in a space where, in the past, a transaction typically took 30 seconds. The cafe trades heavily on the memory of Dapolito and Vesuvio's past. Old photographs of the Dapolito family are everywhere. Postcards of the shop are available for purchase. The menu proclaims Vesuvio has been in business since 1920. And, of course, the windows still advertise "Italian Bread & Biscuits" in gold leaf, and the storefront is as green as ever. It's all very nice. But, nonetheless, I wish it was still only a bakery.

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