Sure Starbucks was the first retailer to mass market cappuccinos, lattes, and other espresso concoctions.
But it was Caffe Reggio, a dimly lit place with an old-school Bohemian atmosphere at 113 Macdougal Street, which brought the first espresso machine to America in 1927, introducing New York to Italian coffee drinks.
The huge machine, built in 1903, is displayed like artwork in the cafe. It’s a shiny, nickel-plated beauty with many mysterious spigots. And there’s a colorful story and character behind it.
“That machine represents the life savings of Dominic Parisi, it’s his pride, his occupation,” reports a New York Herald Tribune article from 1945 that can be read in full on Caffe Reggio’s website.
[Above: Parisi with his prized machine, from cafereggio.com]
“Dominic was a barber until his sight dimmed. Forty years he held the razor—it’s the trade of his family,” states the Tribune.
“When he could no longer barber, he got together his savings, $1,000, and sent them to Italy for the machine magnificent, topped with an angel, its base surrounded with dragons.”
Another article, this one uncredited, explains, “Dominic spent his life savings of $1,000 to import the espresso from Italy. Only he is allowed to touch it.
“He rubs it with loving care. With it he makes a strong black cup of coffee or cappuccino (a marvelous blend of strong coffee, steaming milk, and cinnamon).
“Real coffee lovers haunt his cafe. They are all ‘my friends’ to Dominic, who never takes his hat off because, ‘Excuse me—it makes me sneeze.'”
The espresso machine isn’t the only antique at Caffe Reggio. This little curio shop of a coffee house boasts of “a dramatic 16th century painting from the school of Caravaggio and an antique bench which once belonged to the Medici family.”
The website has lots of photos from the 1920s through today of celebrities, locals, and bohemians hanging out at Reggio.