"Provided their shops are not on the same street, two cobblers can live in perfect harmony." -- Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgettin
From 1975 until it closed abruptly in December, Da Silvano, the Greenwich Village fixture, served lunch and dinner daily in a little space on Sixth Avenue between Bleecker and Houston Streets. In recent years the restaurant was as well known for a tabloidy food feud with its next-door neighbor Bar Pitti as it was for its cuisine or dedicated A-List clientele, but Da Silvano occupied a historic place in the story of New York fine dining.
When Silvano Marchetto opened his restaurant, the only Italian eateries in New York were cheap "red sauce" joints. At the time, Da Silvano was unique in its emphasis on authentic Northern Italian cuisine. Since then, Northern Italian food has become far easier to find, but Da Silvano never lost its edge, known as much for the high quality of the food it served as for the bold-face names (including Graydon Carter, Michael Bloomberg, Rihanna and Madonna, to name four at random) that regularly dined there.
Downplayed in most of the recent eulogies is the fact that Bar Pitti, the equally star-studded, but more casual Northern Italian restaurant right next door, is as popular as ever, and likely to thrive even more now. Like Da Silvano, Bar Pitti is known as much for people-watching—Alex Rodriguez, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Beyoncé and Jay Z are all well-known fans—as for its food. But the real stars at Bar Pitti are the inexpensive yet delicious plates of pasta and panini served every day.
Seeing Bar Pitti bustle on a Friday night while Da Silvano languishes dark and empty is certainly a mournful sight; it’s also as unexpected as seeing Wile E. Coyote with the Road Runner in his mouth. For years, these two restaurants have been impossible to untangle thanks to their bitter feud.
Bar Pitti began as an expansion of Da Silvano. It was opened in 1992 by Mr. Marchetto and his former waiter-turned-business partner Giovanni Tognozzi. But relations between the two men deteriorated; in 2002, when Mr. Tognozzi sued Mr. Marchetto to force him sell his shares of Bar Pitti, Mr. Tognozzi accused Mr. Marchetto of trying to poach customers, of unsavory personal conduct, and of generally doing nothing to merit the salary he earned from Bar Pitti. As the legal conflicts between the two restaurants intensified, with a countersuit by Mr. Marchetto and the eventual hiring of an independent arbiter, the feud also generated tabloid-ready theatrics. In 2008, Mr. Tognozzi chased Da Silvano’s maitre d' up the street; in 2010, a smoke bomb was thrown into Bar Pitti by an unidentified man.
In recent years, the feud quieted down. Then, in December, it ended. Mr. Marchetto said he was forced out of business not by any machinations on the part of Mr. Tognozzi or Bar Pitti, but instead by the most devious villain of all: New York’s real estate market. He'd reportedly started renting a small space 41 years ago at $500 per month but was paying $42,500 for much-expanded quarters by the end. The cost of operating his restaurant was simply too much, he said.
Mr. Marchetto and his wife, the celebrated cartoonist Marisa Acocella Marchetto, are also divorcing, and she has retained Robert Stephen Cohen, a famously fearsome attorney, to represent her in what have reportedly become bitter proceedings.
Rent or the rending of a high-profile marriage? Either way, there is one indisputable fact: Bar Pitti has prevailed.
Reached on the phone a few weeks after Da Silvano's closure, a hostess responded to an inquiry about the relationship between Mr. Marchetto and Mr. Tognozzi by saying, "They have no relationship! That's the relationship."
But Mr. Tognozzi struck a more conciliatory tone. "Why should I say something about somebody who did great things and is no longer in business?" he asked, before adding, "It's not my style."
Photo of Silvano Marchetto by Patrick McMullan/PatrickMcMullan.com