Many a New Yorker has perched herself on a bench in Father Demo Square, watching pigeons circle in unison from building top to building top. There’s always that one lone pigeon bopping its head back and forth as it walks, waiting for someone to drop part of a bagel. On a sunny day, there is nothing better than visiting the neighboring restaurants, Bagels on the Square, Joe’s Pizza, Grom, eating a bagel slathered with cream cheese,
a warm slice or a refreshing gelato. This square has been one of my favorite parts of the city since I moved to Manhattan. To me, it was the gateway between the middle Village or NYU territory and the West Village, the land of quiet, quaint streets. I fell in love with the delicious bagels and creamy flavored cream cheeses of Bagels on the Square. When I got a craving for pizza, I’d get a slice of Joe’s and stand at the window, looking out at the square. A few doors down on Bleecker, I’d get pastries at Rocco’s, a wonderful Italian pastry shop with an incredible smell as you walk inside. Let the big fat cookies in the window beckon you in. Up the block from Rocco’s is Murray’s Cheese where I can get whatever cheese I desire. (I remember when Murray’s was on the opposite side of Bleecker Street in a smaller shop.) Next door to Murray’s is Faicco’s Italian Specialties where you can get Italian meats as well as other Italian grocery/deli items. I love Bleecker Street and could keep on walking and telling you what I like, but I need to turn around and walk southeast because this is about Father Demo Square.
Who is Father Demo? I used to ask myself that question. Now I know the answer. Father Antonio Demo was pastor of Our Lady of Pompeii church from 1899 to 1933. Our Lady of Pompeii is the Italianiate church with the domed bell tower west of Father Demo Square on the corner of Carmine and Bleecker Streets.
According to the church’s Web site, Father Demo comforted families of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire victims. Originally from Vicenza, Italy, he immigrated to Boston in 1896 and later became assistant pastor of the church before becoming its pastor. The church provided support to the immigrant Italian community that arrived during the turn of the last century. Italian immigrants created businesses in the nearby area, and the area later developed into a mecca for artists and writers. (Personally, this is the church where my grandfather was baptized, and this is the neighborhood where his family lived. In fact, at one time, they lived on Carmine Street right opposite the church.)
Today, Our Lady of Pompeii represents diverse cultures and has Masses in English, Italian, Portuguese and Tagalog for the diverse community of Americans, Italians, Brazilians and Filipinos. This beautiful church continues to aid immigrants, visitors and the neighborhood, and its beloved pastor is recognized and remembered in Father Demo Square.
What to Eat: bagels from Bagels on the Square; pizza from Joe’s Pizza, gelato from Grom; pastries from Rocco’s (especially the cannoli which is filled to order–how it should be!); cheese from Murray’s; deli items from Faicco’s Italian Specialties.
Where to Shop: Avignone Chemists, founded in 1832, the oldest apothecary in America; for a bit of history, check out the window display of old prescriptions, many written in Italian.