32 Jones St
New York, NY 10014
Hours: 6pm Daily
Subway: A,B,C,D,E,F,M to West 4th St
Written by: Daniel Morrow
At Caffe Vivaldi, owner Ishrat Ansari has created an inspiring community for musicians to gather and perform. Ishrat describes it as an all-genre music venue, delivering “everything from bluegrass to opera,” and that it is more of a listening room than a ‘cafe’. Many musicians are handpicked by Ishrat to play, some through the open mic session he holds every Monday.
The venue epitomizes warmth and a home-like atmosphere with a fireplace, plants, and candlelit tables, plus a grand piano. In the stage-less room musicians perform only feet away from regulars, who gather at the tables and snack on Italian and Mediterranean dishes.
Ishrat is an old-time West Village resident, since 1973, when he opened a small bookstore that quickly became a hangout for writers, poets and artists. It was after a visit to Europe with its many cafe style restaurants that he decided to open a cafe with music.
During construction of Cafe Vivaldi in 1983, a local lady approached Ishrat with a sketch given to her many years before. It was of her grandfather, an enthusiast of the composer, Antonio Vivaldi, and the owner of the Laundromat that once stood where the cafe is now. In the sketch, “he irons with his right and leads the philharmonic with his left, augmented by a radio above him” (quote from the inscription of the sketch). Ishrat was so moved by the sketch and the story he named the place Cafe Vivaldi.
The venue aims to carry on the vibrant glory days of the neighorhood. A music lover, Ishrat has sacrificed financial gain in his passion for musicians. Open now for 28 years, Ishrat recalls many famous moments that have taken place in this small room. From Bette Midler’s birthday party and visits from Andy Warhol to Joseph Brodsky’s interviews after he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Woody Allen has also shot two movies here, Bullets Over Broadway and Whatever Works. In fact, Ishrat liked the decor from the set design of the latter film so much that he has left much of it intact to this day.