JODY WILLIAMS’S GUIDE TO THE WEST VILLAGE
Stepping through the doors of the charming bistro Buvette in the West Village, it’s easy to imagine why diners feel at ease here. Chef Jody Williams has created an idyllic, European oasis on Grove Street complete with bentwood bistro chairs, metal towers of pastries, and a delightfully retro tin ceiling. Her brilliance with vegetables and seasonal ingredients earned her a nomination for the James Beard Best Chef: New York City award last year. Just down the street, she also runs Via Carota, a rustic Italian restaurant, with her partner Rita Sodi, the owner of I Sodi.
Together the two have created a mini empire of beloved establishments in the West Village. The newest addition Pisellino, their hotly anticipated Italian all-day cafe, opens this fall. We caught up with Williams to discuss her favorite hangouts in the area, how the neighborhood has changed, and where to get the best nightcap.
When did you start spending time in the West Village?
Jody Williams: I was in my early twenties when I came out here after college. It’s been about thirty years now.
What attracted you to the area?
JW: New York overall is the place to be. I was looking for great kitchens to step into and learn—I’m a self-taught cook—and New York had a list of places to work. Greenwich Village, more specifically, had nightlife and history. I loved the quaintness of it and the ability to bicycle around. It’s a great little nook in New York.
What was the area like then?
JW: Chumley’s (the neighborhood speakeasy) was still Chumley’s. You could go through the back door. The Corner Bistro was still the Corner Bistro. There were a lot more diners. I remember late-night eating at Florent, a French diner on Gansevoort Street. The piers were seedy. I wouldn’t call it rough but it was really interesting. Now there’s the park on the riverfront, which is really nice and detailed. The area’s been tamed. One thing that I love about Greenwich Village is all the little parks and green spaces, whether it’s Abingdon or Sheridan Square Park or the park with handball courts over on Leroy (James S. Walker Park). Everywhere you go there are green corners. Those are still here, but it’s definitely changing.
Why did you base your restaurants here?
JW: One of my first jobs was in the West Village. I found a job out of the Village Voice. I went in and knocked on the door. They said, “Get dressed.” And I said, “Into what?” Then I started learning how to be a cook. It was a long time ago at a restaurant called Melrose. It had a great clientele and lots of opportunity. When I opened Buvette, the neighborhood was familiar to me and I considered it my home.
Does the restaurant scene seem any different to you?
JW: Everything keeps moving and reinventing itself. It’s a lot more commercial. Some of my favorites are still around: McNulty’s Tea Shop and Three Lives and Company. Then you get new places like Té Company. It’s still a place where people come to do something independent.
What’s your favorite time of day to be here?
JW: I like the mornings when all the old timers are out. Hanging out on the stoop, you see all the supers in the buildings. You see your favorite dogs and your favorite people. You’re taking it easy. It’s a great neighborhood because of the people that live in it. There’s still a lot of diversity left even though things are changing. New people coming into the neighborhood add another level of vitality to it. I love stopping into Patisserie Claude or there’s the old diner, La Bonbonniere. For coffee, Joe does it so well.
What is your perfect day off in the neighborhood?
JW: It’s nice to sit outside and read if you get up early enough. I sit on the stoop. I like to stop by Three Lives and pick up a book. I shop for new teas at McNulty’s. I walk around and eat an early dinner at I Sodi. That’s home for me.
What do you do at night?
JW: I’ll check out a movie at the IFC. I usually stay within a four or five block radius of my house. I’ll go out and drink some sake or whiskey. I love to go to Arthur’s Tavern. It still has it’s Christmas decorations and there’s no cover for live music. It’s very uncomplicated. There might be a little line to get in, but you just squeeze in and figure it out. I hate to admit it, but we’re always at Via Carota. I love to sit on the bench outside with Rita and just have a glass of Nebbiolo there and just see it all happening. That’s a favorite thing to do at dusk.
Words Ashley Mason
Photography Max Poglia