By Allyn Freeman
Consider the many stories fictional or fact about the West Village in novels, short stories, magazines and newspaper articles. Remember those involving tales written about the bohemian lives of Village artists and writers. Recall the narrations of Village nightlife with anecdotes about jazz clubs, watering holes, and potluck parties in walk up garrets. And call to mind a potpourri of varied recollections from many inhabitants.
Most of these accounts were written by people who moved into the West Village, coming from somewhere else. This is what makes Charles Dorato’s story so unique, for he was born, raised, and has worked in the West Village for all but eight years (U. Pitt B.A. and DDS from Pitt’s School of Dental Medicine) of his 72-years.
Dorato’s lineage traces back to 1919 when his northern Italian grandfather, Carlo Dorato, opened a speakeasy at 239 West Fourth (House built in 1836) between Charles and West 10th Street. The Prohibition era saloon in the basement was known casually as Charley’s Gardens, a card-playing club for local Italian immigrants, a sandwich snack bar, and a fun place to drink illegal hooch. One evening in the mid-1920s, the police raided and were surprised to discover favorite Gotham politician Jimmy Walker (a Greenwich Village native also) imbibing downstairs. The savvy police captain said, “Mr. Mayor, we just stopped in to use the toilets.”That West Fourth street number may not spark an immediate recognition, but the restaurant that has occupied the space will: Fedora. To Dorato, it’s more than just a dining legend for over 65 years, it’s his mother’s name. Fedora (née Nannini) and husband Henry Dorato (son of Carlo) opened the restaurant in 1952. She grew up on King Street, he on Perry. They were married in Our Lady of Pompeii Church on Carmine Street in 1945. Both parents had worked at Oscar’s Delmonico, the famous downtown eatery at Beaver and William Streets, founded by Oscar Tucci.
Carlo left for New Jersey, making two important decisions that would have a marked consequence on his grandson’s life. The first was to offer the space to restaurateurs who opened Bill and Jerry’s. The business failed, leaving a fully equipped restaurant and a classic neon sign. In 1952, Fedora convinced her husband to open a continental restaurant in her name. She would do the cooking. She changed the outside neon sign to “Fedora” and this pink and green sign would achieve landmark status. Grandpa Carlo’s second decision was to rent the empty first floor at 239 West Fourth to Dr. Jeff Wallach, a local dentist.
Charles Dorato was born in 1946 in the now closed Wickersham Hospital on East 58th Street. The family lived first at 240 West Fourth, and then moved across the street to 239 West Fourth. He attended St. Joseph’s Academy at Washington Square North, and high school at Loyola uptown at East 83rd Street and Park Avenue. During high school, he worked at the family bistro, and here, regular patrons suggested he attend a big, out of town, university. Dr. Wallach knew a professor at the University of Pittsburgh and recommended the school for undergraduate study.
Dorato entered U. Pitt in the Class of 1968, majoring in Art. He was accepted at Pitt’s School of Dental Medicine for its Class of 1972. While an undergraduate, he met his wife, Marylin, a co-ed from Pittsburgh’s Chatham University in the class of 1969. The couple married that year, and after graduation, returned to the West Village where he worked in partnership with Dr. Wallach inside the same house in which he grew up.
The newly married Doratos lived first on West 11th, and then moved to Bank Street near the Waverly Inn. Their daughter Amanda was born in 1976. He has made the same rustic walk from his house to the office ever since he returned to Manhattan in 1972. Few West Village residents can claim this uncommon born here/lived here/worked here neighborhood connection.
In 1972, Dorato started teaching two-days a week at NYU’s School of Dentistry. Today, after 47-years, he holds the title of Clinical Associate Professor. Dr. Wallach retired in 1992, ceding the dental practice to his partner.
Yolanda, the dental hygienist, has worked with Dr. Dorato for more than 25-years. Julie, the receptionist, has been with him since 2007.
After Fedora Dorato died in 2011, Gabe Stulman bought the restaurant and kept the Fedora name but changed the neon sign to new colors. Stulman also owns Joseph Leonard and Jeffery’s Grocery both on Waverly Place in the West Village and operates other restaurants in Manhattan.
What differentiates Charles Dorato’s matchless heritage—the singularity of these unique experiences—comes from having resided as a boy in the West Village. And, in his own words that follow, the first time ever printed story of a street game in the neighborhood.
“As a teenager, I and a group of friends, played stickball against some Westies from Hell’s Kitchen. When they came downtown, the game was played on Waverly Place near Sixth Avenue where there were few cars. The home team supplied the pink Spaldeen balls. I am proud to say I could hit the ball the length of two sewers.”
Dr. Charles Dorato hailed from West Village restaurant nobility. He is a true denizen, to the West Village manner born.