14 July 2008

Bleecker & Macdougal

I'm a bit slow on the uptake here, but for form's sake I'd like to take a moment here to mourn the passing of Le Figaro cafe on the southeast corner of Macdougal Street and Bleecker. I know the kitschy old wooden cafe hasn't been what it should for many years. (The original incarnation actually shut down in 1969.) Still, its exit marks the final death knell for an intersection that was, for a time in the post-WWII years, more Greenwich-Villagey than any other.

This was the crossroads of every significant literary and music figure of the '50s and '60s. They all spent time here: Dylan, Burroughs, Agee, Ginsberg, Pollock, Auden, Baldwin, Cage, Williams (Tennessee), Miles Davis, Styron, O'Hara. The famed San Remo was on the northwest corner. There were few literary hangouts more famous. All of the above were rooted to the wooden booths. At the northeast corner sat the old Cafe Borgia for 60 solid years, until 2001. After the Cafe Reggio up the street, it was the oldest cafe in the Village. Dylan and the Beat poets hung out here too, as well as Warhol and Albee.

As you can imagine, one came to this area to drink. Drink coffee and drink alcohol. Drink and talk, talk and drink—both, furiously. The intellectual life of the Village ragee here day in and day out. Now, with Figaro's death, it's one of the most indistict, unimaginative intersections in New York City, in my opinion.

Folkster Fred Neil wrote a song called Bleecker & Macdougal back in '65. It went:

I was standing on the corner
Of the Bleecker and MacDougal
Wondering which way to go
I've got a woman down in Coconut Grove
And you know she love me so

I wanna go home

We all do, Fred.


Anonymous said...

In the late 70's, I was a starving art student, happy to have a place to nurse a cup of coffee (or chamomile tea when I was melancholy) and a cigarette at a window seat facing MacDougal. My future ex-husband and I did our courting there. Once the tour buses started dropping off, I couldn't bear to go there even for sweet nostalgia's sake. Now I wish I'd had one last apple, sprouts and cheese on pump.

But without the beau and butts, why bother?

Anonymous said...

Oh I'm so sorry to read this. The re-emergence of the Figaro sometime in the seventies (76 ?) was like magic to me.
I grew up in what is now Soho and as a small child my parents would take me to the Figaro after my modern dance recitals with Valentina, who had a studio over the Bitter End. I would have chocolate ice cream and be very happy. I remember being there other times and passing a hot pot belly stove. My father told a story about the owner's wife who was messing around on him (the owner not my father) and then somehow ended up in a wheelchair, as if nature demanded retribution. Supposedly, she was there in the Figaro wheelchair-bound presiding over the cafe when we went in, under a portrait of herself in her walking prime. However, all I really remember was the ice cream, which was special treat for me, and that potbelly stove.
Then the seventies hit and it all went tits up. I hate to tell you but Bleeker St doesn't look that different now than it did then. The movie theaters except for the Bleeker St Cinema disappeared and so did much of the interesting character of the street. The Figaro became a BASKIN ROBINS?!?! And when the Mills Hotel flophouse became expensive condos and the live chicken place disappeared on Thompson St and the mob left/was jailed out it was all over.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Thanks for sharing those memories, Dido.

jon makay said...

JON, just to say thank you. I have been searching for a specific location I had cause to visit when I was briefly in NYC in 1997.
All I could recall was there was a Figaro's and a cat on douglas street. though now I know it was MacDougal...and the 7th floor


WJ said...

I miss NYC before 2001. I went to NYU in 2000-2002 so my graduate degree was intersected by 9/11. I love the Figaro and everything on Bleecker Street. And it all disappeared in a matter of a few years...and I still haven't recovered either. And now with President Trump the phony non-New Yorker president we never will. Peace...

Unknown said...

In 1967, living on the streets as a penniless hippy, I was hired to work in the chest and bridge club downstairs at the Figaro. It was fantastic, suddenly I had money to eat and was able to rent a room at the old Village Plaza Hotel. I recall that there were two black gentleman that managed to Figaro – Charlie and Eric. At least 50 people applied for the job that I got. I had the brilliant idea of going into a laundry in buying a crisp, starched white shirt that had gone unclaimed. I'm sure that's why I got the job,