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Karen’s Quirky Style: Kicking it up at Caffè Reggio

BY KAREN REMPEL | Caffè Reggio at 119 MacDougal St. has been a favorite haunt of beatniks and poets and beatnik poets since the Fifties, but its history stretches back to 1927, when its founder, Domenico Parisi, opened the cafe and served New Yorkers the first cappuccino in America.

But the place’s most haunting luminary, in my opinion, was Mr. David Bowie, who is reputed to have enjoyed hanging out at Caffè Reggio for his morning cappuccino. Shortly after he became a blackstar, I read that he used to come here and while away a few hours writing in the corner. If only I had known, I would have haunted the spot myself! Every day!

When you visit — if you’re not already a regular — be sure to check out the ancient, half-a-millennium-year-old bench from the Medici family. The 1902 espresso machine is still in situ, as is a ceiling fan that stirred the tension-saturated air in “Casablanca.” Yes, an actual prop from the famed flick.

So for this month’s column, photographer Phil and I decided to soak in the artistic history of the Reggio. But what to wear? A friend had recently given me this bead-and-crystal encrusted vest, and there was a black felt hat crouching in my closet. I decided to go full-on Liza Minelli and add these over-the-top, electric-blue booties from Hustler Hollywood, one of my favorite shops on W. Eighth Street. They make me feel 10 feet tall, though, in reality they only add 7 inches to my stature.

The vest has an interesting history. It belonged to another quirky New Yorker, my friend Pat’s mother-in-law, Luna Tarlo, whose son Andrew Cohen founded an enlightenment cult in the Eighties in India, and soon afterward brought his followers and teachings to America. His mom joined the cult, but eventually broke free from her son’s hypnotic spell and wrote a book, “The Mother of God,” about her harrowing experience.

Luna’s vest is a testament to her own quirky style. She loves colorful clothes and shoes, and her spirit is larger than life. She recently passed the nine-decade mark, and is still bringing joy to the folks around her. Blessings, Luna!

For more fantastic Philip Maier photos, see karensquirkystyle.nyc.

Style notes:

• Sparkly, handmade sequin and bead-adorned vest embellished with jewel-toned pastilles. Gift from a friend.
• Express black flared shorts. Gift from a friend.
Electric-blue Pleaser Adore sparkly 7-inch platform booties. Hustler Hollywood, 41 W. Eighth St.
• Borsalino Alessandria 1857 black felt hat with wide black grosgrain ribbon trimmed with narrow string and tiny button. Judi Harvest private Chelsea studio sale.
• Sapphire drop earrings. Whole Bead Show NYC, Hotel Pennsylvania.
Amethyst, leather and silver bead bracelet. UNOde50, The Oculus at World Trade Center, 185 Greenwich St.
1920s vintage chrome link choker. Pippin Vintage Jewelry, 104 W. 17th St.
Steel-blue and plum lattice-patterned bead necklace. Artrageous, Vancouver.

10 Comments

  1. Tracey Martinsen Tracey Martinsen September 13, 2022

    I love your columns, Karen! The history of place, the fashion ( 🎵 Turn to the left!), the anecdotes and random facts, and above all your love for New York! Your enthusiasm for living well makes every day better.

  2. Linda Z Linda Z September 13, 2022

    Another outstanding example of your talent to combine fabulous fashion against a historical background. Caffè Reggio is a beloved landmark and you are well on your way to becoming a living one. Thank you, Karen!

  3. Liessi Haussler — London, Canada Liessi Haussler — London, Canada September 13, 2022

    Karen, your urban exploration articles are an absolute dream! More than mini travelogues, these little forays into the niches where pop culture was born, fostered and in some cases, came to pass away their final days, trigger sensory explosions in my brain that bring a whole decade back to life—including some that took place before I was born! How you do this in fewer than 500 words is a magic trick that I look forward to with every new edition.

  4. maggy maggy September 13, 2022

    I love Karen’s column, the way she combines history and now together with a great story about where the costume she’s put together originated. Keep it coming.

  5. jeviston jeviston September 13, 2022

    This is what makes folks LOVE NYC! Cultural embracing (would have loved to hear the circa 1927 non-Italians comment on the arrival of the “cappuccino”), history, art, artists and looking foxy and feelin’ fine! Righteous article, KYR!

    • A. Cobo A. Cobo September 13, 2022

      Love every single piece you write, Karen! I don’t do much exploring of NYC myself but your pieces make me feel like I was tagging along. Keep ’em coming!

  6. Mary Reinholz Mary Reinholz September 14, 2022

    Karen Rempel writes that she decided to go “full-on Lisa Minnelli” by wearing 7-inch booties for her latest column in The Village Sun. Um, perhaps Ms. Rempel is unaware that Minnelli, now 76, was wheelchair bound at the 2022 Oscars and had ditched high heels long before that when she and other stars (like Helen Mirren and Kristen Stewart) chose to wear flats for red carpet events. Good for them! The retrograde footwear Ms. Rempel displays from Hustler Hollywood (a chain developed by the late porn king Larry Flynt) make even the most liberated woman look like a tottering courtesan. Those boots sure aren’t made for walking.

  7. Lew Lew September 16, 2022

    Thanks for another wonderful trip down memory lane, Karen, and as always your fashion is gorgeous!

  8. Bruce Bruce September 18, 2022

    Hey, Karen, keep cooking up the quirk to quench our constant cultural craving.

  9. Pat Duffy Pat Duffy September 22, 2022

    Dearest me! What a tribute to Luna and family! You look amazing in Luna’s dazzling vest–you are the perfect person to wear it! And to the perfect cafe in the Village. . Luna loved downtown cafes..(and would have loved reading your well-researched history of iconic downtown places) Luna (also from Canada!) lived in the West Village on Morton St during her very early years in NY…A fine and one-of-a-kind tribute indeed to fine and one-of-a-kind Luna (from fine and one-of-a-kind Karen!

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