It is with much regret that I read (10 days late) about the closing of Cafe Figaro, 184-186 Bleecker Street. While long past its glory days as a beat generation hangout and perennial homebase to artists, musicians, authors and students, Cafe Figaro was nothing less than a Village landmark and counter-culture institution. The list of "regulars" throughout its history is quite remarkable, including iconic personalities such as Bill Cosby, Bob Dylan and Gore Vidal.
I've witnessed a lot of changes to the intersection of Bleecker St. at MacDougal over past 15 years (though the changes began earlier than that, among them the closing of cafes San Remo and Borgia-most recently known as Carpo's and Ciao), but the persistence of this neighborhood stalwart remained a source of nostalgic comfort to those of us who relish the area's rich history in the arts and tradition of nurturing creative talent. As passionate as I am about food, I cringe a little when I hear about an old bookshop closing down to make room for a gelateria.
The food at Figaro hasn't been worth mentioning for years. But the food was hardly the point: it was the Euro air and feel of the place, the abundant sidewalk seating in prime people-watching territory (as well as the endless variations on cappuccino) that kept it going for so long. As a college student in the '90s, I chose this very intersection for the subject of my field study project for a cultural anthropology course (and ate more French bread grilled cheese sandwiches with dijon-tossed greens than I care to recall), and I guess I had developed an even greater affection for the area than I thought.
The closing of the bohemian Figaro may be more of a cultural loss than a gastronomic one, but it's a sign of the culinary times, nonetheless.