03 April 2013

Lost City Asks "Who Goes to Arturo's?"

From last week's "Who Goes There?" column on Eater. Wish their pizza was better. (People: better quality tomatoes and a pinch of basil and salt in your sauce, and your problems are solved!) But I have no complaints about the ambiance.

Who Goes There? Arturo's
Among New York City's long-playing pizzerias, Arturo's stands out in a few ways. Its founder, Arturo Giunta (who died in 2006), was in no way connected to the famous Lombardi's pizza family tree that begat Totonno's, Patsy's, and John's, among others. Compared to those storied joints, it's rarely written up, or places in the regularly published top ten lists of New York pie palaces. And it doesn't feel like a tourist trap, the way other pizza destinations can.
Moreover, Arturo's—still on the same corner (Houston and Sullivan) where it flung open its doors in 1957—retains a raffish, scruffy charm that most of Greenwich Village lost long ago. It's not just that the ceilings are tin and battered; that there are countless signed celebrity head shots on the walls; that bad oil paintings by amateur artist Arturo occupy the spaces not taken up by actor photos; that nobody can remember who painted the large fading murals, or what scene they're supposed to depict; or that they used to perform plays in the back room in the '70s. It's more that, in very Old School Villagey style, Arturo's still has live jazz music every day. It's that the staff all seem to be ancient or bohemian or somebody's underperforming relative. This is a classic New York staff, and they're part of the place the way ivy's part of a wall. The young waitress wears cat-eye glasses and a leather skirt. The manager looks like a librarian at an alternative-reading library. When the genial greeter in the baseball cap introduced me to the owner, she sized me up and said, "Who is this?" A customer, the greeter said. "Oh, mystery man!"
Arturo's doesn't hurt for business. I arrived at opening time one weekend day, and there were already people there. A half hour in, the place was packed. "This is nothing," my waiter said. "You should see us on Saturday night. Line down the block." Who comes? "Everybody." Tourists? "Yeah, lots of tourists. Celebrities." Locals. "Lots of locals. Been coming for years." Most of the diners I saw were locals. Some spoke foreign tongues, but even they seemed used to the place.
The pizza? Well, it's fine. The crust is a bit thick, the sauce a bit bland. I put a lot of crushed red pepper and Parmesan on mine to give it a kick of flavor. I'd be fine with the level of quality if the prices weren't so high. Plain pies begin at $17 for a small; $20 for a large. Extra toppings are four dollars and up. Those are close to Lucali prices. And Lucali's a lot better. Also, Arturo's seemingly has no excuse for the pricy tariff; the family owns the building and are presumedly not under the pressure of making the rent.
But, you know, so what? Lucali doesn't have this atmosphere, this old Village charm, this family atmosphere, this joyous corner vista past which windows—on which are painted fading letters that tempt you, tantalizingly, with "Air-Conditioning"—all of New York seems to pass. Even nearby John's, a slice of potent Village ambience itself, can't quite compare to the transporting Arturo's mise-en-scene. If you're fond of that romantic version of New York many of us hold in our fuzzy, nostalgic-addled heads, it's a happy-making space.
—Brooks of Sheffield


Proud NIMBY said...

Great place, decent food, but, yes, the pricing is a bit over the top.

Once I went in and ordered the ziti with garlic and oil, asking for extra garlic.

When the bill came, there was a surcharge of $2, which I questioned.
The waiter said it was for the extra garlic.

"$2 just for a little garlic?"
"You didn't warn me there was a surcharge."
"You should have asked!"

"How much for the extra salt?"

He looked at me, I stared back, and he relented, but warning, "OK, but next time it's $2."

Anonymous said...

We go! Since I was a kid. They also do a big delivery/take out service in the neighborhood. It can be very crowded on weekend nights--so people are going.

Ken Mac said...

Arturo's better be careful. You can't maintain local patronage if you basically serve overpriced, bland food. Not anymore. I pass by here everyday, but haven't entered in years...