“Welcome to your living room” could be the unofficial motto of The Vagabond Café, a newly opened coffee shop on Cornelia Street that provides any freely roaming spirits a place to call their own.
Co-owners Mike Morello and Aly Symmonds designed their dream café to serve as a communal space for Village-goers searching for a home away from home. Combining their passions for music, food and hospitality, Morello and Symmonds share their own talents with many a welcome passerby. The café is “always a home for people to come to if they need a place to perform, a place to get warm,” Morello told WestView during a recent visit. “If we could have created a place where we wanted to go, this would be it.”
The Lite-Brite “Open” sign is the first of many trinkets that color the café’s interior and illuminate Morello’s and Symmonds’s personal touches. Morello pointed out that most of the scattered displays come from his own childhood possessions. Flowers sit in G.I. Joe thermoses, and board games and sci-fi toys rest in a cupboard above the bar. Plush couches and chairs also dot the space, providing a welcome respite for wanderers.
Symmonds attentively assembles paninis, folds crepes and mixes lattes from old family recipes. Morello lines up the musical acts for the weekly jazz ensembles, open mic nights and jam sessions, many of which are comprised of people he knows. Their personalities come through in their hospitality, but Morello and Symmonds also seek to showcase the talent and personalities that walk through their door.
The Wednesday open mic night WestView recently stumbled upon featured musicians from near and far who blended their sounds. Jessica Latshaw, from Landenberg, PA, transfixed the audience with her ukulele ballads; Joel Zighel, owner of Jones Street Wine, a block away, strolled over after closing to jam on the in-house piano; and Alex Torovic, of Serbia, poured his guitar soul into hometown harmonies and then accompanied Morton Millen in the fusion of folk and blues. Klancie Keough, a true vagabond, sang with a guitar she bought on her the last day of her week-long visit to New York, still hoping to catch her 10:00 flight the next morning back to Australia. Morello talked about how the confluence of music and art in the West Village makes it the perfect New York neighborhood for him and Symmonds to satisfy their musical impulses.
As the night progressed Symmonds commanded the counter, preparing local and homemade fare. Cheese from Murray’s Cheese and meats from Ottomanelli Brothers enliven the sense of keeping the food “neighborhoodinal,” as Morello calls it. Morello believes the variety of paninis, crepes and lattes on the menu give customers “pretty much anything anyone would want,” as exemplified by the 30 different latte flavors they can choose from, including Peppermint Patty and Almond Joy. The beer selection also stays local, featuring Long Island and Coney Island beers, and the wine is switched “in and out” to keep the selection fresh.
Morello is proud of the positive relationships Vagabond has established with neighboring businesses. Rather than work in competition, the café and surrounding restaurants and music venues work cooperatively to build a sense of comfort, community and good listening throughout the area. When Morello and Symmonds decided to open a café, they zeroed in on the West Village because of these qualities. The area has “enough of the artsiness and class to make the perfect New York neighborhood,” Morello enthused.
Morello and Symmonds make running their business look easy because all they have to do is to be themselves. And the vagabonds will come because they just want to be themselves, too. Everyone is at home here.
By Matt Closter with Julie Berger
The Vagabond Café
7 Cornelia Street
(between West Fourth & Bleecker)
Tues-Thurs: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri-Sat: 11 a.m.-12 a.m. Sun: 11 a.m.-8 p.m.