With Charlemagne, an Attempt to Refurbish a Bit of the West Village
When Vanessa Repice first moved to the West Village 12 years ago, she recalls, the neighborhood felt different, and not just because there were far fewer restaurants. "People had been there for generations," she says. "Some of my neighbors' kids were born there and grew up there." They reigned over more brownstone-lined streets with more independent shops, guarding what Repice describes as "a little pocket of New York that was undiscovered."
Not long after the resident finished unpacking her boxes, though, the secret was out, and stores like Burberry and Coach began supplanting the boutiques while high-rises grew on lots once held by houses. But while Repice was sad to see those changes begin to take hold, she wasn't disappointed when the new neighbors started putting pressure on the seedier businesses that had been in the area for years. "I used to avoid the corner of Christopher and Greenwich Street because there was a porn shop there," she explains.
A little more than a year ago, though, ownership of that address changed, and that business closed for good. And Repice, a 20-year veteran of the restaurant industry who was no longer avoiding the corner, snapped up the lease and began outfitting the space as Charlemagne, a new French neighborhood joint that she hoped would give fresh life to an old space while paying homage to that old West Village charm.
Repice knew from the outset that she wanted a true neighborhood joint, and when she started demolition, she worked to salvage old bits of space that would make her new place feel deeply rooted. Details include black-and-white honeycomb floors and a round tin chandelier, two details that lay just underneath the surface of the porn shop's decor scheme. "Everything was covered by sub-flooring and carpeting," she explains. "The walk-through would make you blush. There were these private booths downstairs. It was pretty crazy. But when we started to tear everything up, we uncovered all of these amazing pieces of history that had been buried."