When I think of Greenwich Village today, I picture a large buffet of cultural foods in a variety of restaurants that litter the streets. These establishments are reminiscent of the days when the Lower East Side was considered the gateway to America, where immigrants first settled in tight knit communities and continued to celebrate their cultural heritage. Since, the Village has become a smorgasbord of great restaurants, the foundations of which were established more then 100 years ago.
In 1917, the first tea room that served food, La Bohemia, opened in the Village. La Bohemia forecasted the Bohemian movement, which would sweep through the village in the years to come. This tea room is credited by the Greenwich Village Gazette as the first place that capitalized on the Bohemian lifestyle that will become so popular in the area, enticing great artists and writers to the winding streets of the Lower East Side.
La Bohemia was soon accompanied by other establishments like Ye Polliwag, The Vermillion Hound and Three Thieves. These restaurants shared the same aesthetics, offering dark, cramped eating accommodations, cheap food and liquor, which they continued to serve even during Prohibition. Most of these places don’t exist anymore, they were nomadic in the early 1900s moving constantly for cheaper rent and eventually went out of business, but the restaurant industry in Greenwich Village is still thriving and so is the story of local legends.
Sonia the Cigarette Girl is one of the legendary figures. A young, Russian immigrant, Sonia ran a Cigarette shop on West Fourth Street, not far from NYU. She was a staple in the tea rooms of a long ago era, bringing her cigarette selections to the patrons. While Sonia is long dead, her memory lives on as does the the enticing eateries that attract tourist and New York residents alike.