119 MacDougal St
Caffe Reggio, the place that introduced America to cappuccino, has been serving it since 1927.
Caffe Reggio’s original owner, Domenico Parisi, was a barber who liked serving 10-cent cups of coffee to his customers while they were waiting for a haircut. As it turned out, the coffee business proved more profitable than cutting hair. Parisi took all of his life savings, worth $1,000, and bought an espresso machine from Italy.
Made in 1902, this splendid apparatus, truly the first of its kind, introduced espresso and cappuccino to America. The noise generated while brewing cappuccino rendered any type of communication among customers impossible, but it was well worth it. Mr. Parisi always wore a hat while making cappuccino. Nobody knows the real reason, but my guess would be either out of immense respect for the machine or for the fear of getting sick. On rare occasions when Mr. Parisi was under the weather, he simply closed the cafe — for he alone was allowed to touch the machine.
The machine is still there, but it has retired from making coffee. Now it stands just to be admired and photographed.
Caffe Reggio first opened in 1927 and since then was owned by just two families, the Parisis and the Cavallacis. The Cavallacis bought it in 1955, renting the space for $18 a month. Caffe Reggio, one of the oldest cafes in the Village, has the same look and feel as it did when it first opened. Both families had lovingly decorated the place by adding beautiful furnishings and works of art.
Most people are completely unaware that there are more than 80 pieces of art in the cafe and that some of the paintings date back to Renaissance, including a piece by the school of Caravaggio. Hard to comprehend, but one of the cafe’s benches used to belong to the Medici family. The bench serves as a regular piece of functional furniture rather than an exhibit item. Imagine that! Where else? The ceiling fan is a prop from the set of the movie Casablanca. In the 1950s, Caffe Reggio became a hub for Greenwich Village bohemia, being visited by the likes of Jack Kerouac, Bob Dylan, and Elvis Presley.
Caffe Reggio channels the authentic feel of old New York. The prices are low and the quality is high. The cafe offers a light food menu, but you come for the espresso or, better yet, the cappuccino.
Up until recently, the place didn’t accept credit cards but the policy has changed. Now it’s cash or credit.