Café Gitane

Nestled in the last, unobstructed corner of Manhattan’s West Village, the new Café Gitane at the Jane Hotel offers rare sanctuary and new-fashioned hospitality. The design and atmosphere are an elegant study of a minimalist decadence—gold flecks edge the couches and washed wood paneling surrounds a tiny service kitchen window at the end of a long marble bar.

The hotel’s understated façade nearly obscures the warm, French Moroccan commons, filled with the subtle sounds of European accents and the scent of fresh, café crème. Like the hotel itself, which boasts room service and delicious coffee drinks from the lobby level café, Gitane is affordable and conceived by and for realists.

Both Gitane locations offer Luc Levy’s expression of the perfectly sensible, international café, taking its name from a pack of vintage cigarettes. In planning the atmosphere, design and vibe, the result is motivated by a type of unpretentious appeal. The first location was limited to 32 seats, adding to the casual, Euro-style charm, but asking a small prep area to carry a large load. Café Gitane at the Jane Hotel offers 80 guests a menu that’s traditional to the original Gitane, with ice cream as the only substantial addition. Expanding to room service, catering for Jane’s ballroom and local delivery, the challenges offered Levy and his team the opportunity to meet an impeccable standard, while pleasing a larger and more geographically diverse crowd.

The cuisine isn’t overtly complex, but spans a range of international comfort riffs like a Brie and apple appetizer, an avocado mash on multi-grain toast, and fresh cucumber juice. The Moroccan influence and ambience, with French technique, makes for unexpected combinations of flavor and color. Featuring 60-70 percent organic items, the products are notoriously fresh and offer the real centerpiece for any meal.

Execution and detail-dedicated service elevate Gitane from a normal or decent café, into a memorable experience. The original Gitane remains a classic meet up spot, great for magazine interviews, intimate meals or coffee on the way to work. And the new location re-invigorates those same, familiar beats.

The café serves as an addendum to the landmark Jane Hotel, which re-launched in 2008. Originally opened as a seaman’s relief space in the early 1900s, which then matured into the home of a late ’80s nightlife scene, the hotel carries on the bohemian club traditions with international artists, musicians, photographers and a smattering of business types. Gitane also caters to a diverse but grounded crowd with reasonably priced fare, healthy options, teas, juices and vegetarian delicacies like eggplant, couscous or hummus.

Since its soft launch, Gitane has offered its full menu during the morning and evening. By early 2010, the kitchen expects to fully launch dinner service, with a downstairs space as an auxiliary bar with street level entry. By then, a touch of vodka will settle perfectly with fresh pressed watermelon juice, or a bit of café liquor with the renowned espresso shot. Then, by next season, outdoor tables will casually line the southwest corner on Jane Street’s cobblestone one way.

The lesson of indulgence might be to avoid over-indulgence. And the lesson of great cuisine might be that it brings people both together, and back for more. Café Gitane is the type of establishment that any neighborhood would want—offering a sensible refuge for anyone to sit down together.

Café Gitane at Jane Hotel, 113 Jane Street, NYC, 10014, 7:00 AM–4:00 PM, open seating.

– Stacie Gillian

Photography by Bradford Gregory