Caffe Reggio is a 92-year-old coffee shop nestled right in the heart of the West Village at 119 MacDougal Street between Thompson and Minetta Lane. I walked down from Sixth Avenue and walked over to MacDougal Street, where I came across a coffee shop that looked different from the rest.
You can’t miss the creamy light-green paint, and a dark green fence around the entrance that says “Caffe Reggio.” Above the front door is a big sign that says, “Original Cappuccino” that had me intrigued. I asked myself—Is this the place where the first cappuccino was sold in America?
Domenico Parisi was an Italian immigrant who opened Caffe Reggio in 1927. Parisi cut hair for “forty years” until he took “$1,000 of his life savings and sent for an espresso machine.” Caffe Reggio was the first shop in America to serve cappuccino.
I sat down at a table, where I could relax and appreciate that I was sitting inside a very historic Village café. I noticed some of the walls were adorned with a few large paintings. According to Caffe Reggio’s website some of these paintings “date back to the Italian Renaissance period” including “a dramatic 16th century painting from the school of Caravaggio and an antique bench which once belonged to the Medici family bearing the Florentine crest of the illustrious Medici family are among the works that impart a feeling of grace and warmth to Caffe Reggio.”
I started reading the orange menu on my table and learned about Caffe Reggio’s prized espresso machine. I read that the espresso machine on display in the café “was built in 1902 and was the very first of its type made.” That’s some history right there!
Two famous films from the 1970s—The Godfather: Part II and Serpico filmed either in or outside Caffe Reggio and in Serpico, Al Pacino’s character lived just one block east of Caffe Reggio at 5-7 Minetta Lane and Bleecker Street.
I met with Caffe Reggio’s general manager, Lena Batyuk, and I asked her how the café started.
She told me about the original owner, Domenico Parisi, who she said “was a barber who started serving espresso to his guests who were waiting for a haircut.”
Lena told me that Niso and Hilda’s son, Fabrizio Cavallaci, now owns the café. “We’ve had the same owner since the 1950s,” Batyuk said. “[Fabrizio] grew up here and then he took [the café] over in 1978.”
Lena added that the Caffe might have closed if Fabrizio had not acted. “I think in the 1980s, Fabrizio bought the building, because he knew that [would be] key, if he wanted to keep the café.”
Batyuk told me what it was like to be a part of Caffe Reggio when it celebrated 90 years of business in 2017.
“We celebrated 90 years here about a year and a half ago,” Batyuk said. “We ran free to-go coffee for everyone and sold wine at 50% off,” Batyuk said. “This is what’s important about Caffe Reggio to me. We live in a society where things are changing quickly, but the core of Caffe Reggio hasn’t changed,” Batyuk said. “Locals have been coming here for as long as we’ve been open and it’s still a great place to meet friends.”
Caffe Reggio is truly one of the last great West Village gems still shining brightly in the heart of the Village. Come visit Caffe Reggio for the “original cappuccino” but also to appreciate the charm of the artwork on display and snap a “selfie” with the espresso machine, which like this old village haunt is aging beautifully.