In Venice, one of the best things you can do is become lost on an obscure, winding street and stumble into a baraci (a working class pub) for a glass of wine and a leisurely snack. Back in 2007, the stretch of Division Street just to the west of Ludlow Street felt like one of those Venetian hiding places, says Kama Geary, owner of Bacaro.
Today Bacaro has become a local favorite at 136 Division St., while the block has transformed in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago. Division Street, bursting with food and nightlife establishments, is no longer a secret. Like Cafe Katja, which we profiled the other day, Bacaro recently celebrated 10 years in business on the Lower East Side.
Geary runs the restaurant with her husband, Alain Levitt, who is a familiar presence behind the upstairs bar several nights a week. A lot has changed for Bacaro as well as for Geary and Levitt personally during the past decade. While Dulcinea DeCarlo (wife of Peasant chef Frank DeCarlo) was an original partner in the Lower East Side venture, Geary is in the process of taking over full ownership. Several years ago, Geary and Levitt moved from the East Village to the Grand Street cooperatives, where they started a family. The couple has two daughters, Ludivine, almost 5, and Rima, who’s 2-and-a-half.
Bacaro was a sensation when it first opened, in part, because the lower level is one of the most unusual and beautiful spaces in all of downtown. The dramatic cave-like dining room features exposed brick, vaulted ceilings and tables nestled into semi-private nooks and crannies.
While the basement is ideal for larger groups, we generally find ourselves gravitating to the bar on the main level, or to an adjacent big communal table with giant windows that open to Division Street on warm evenings. It’s in this room that Levitt often serves as host to a mix of grizzled local residents, artists, skateboarders, world travelers, etc.
When Bacaro first opened, the New Yorker referred to the restaurant as an “art world clubhouse.” Geary first met Levitt, a street photographer, years ago when he asked to take her picture. They were very much part of the 1990s downtown scene and today, even though their lives have changed pretty dramatically, the couple still embrace what’s left of the neighborhood’s creative spirit.
Bacaro’s menu is full of simply prepared, well executed Venetian specialties. Favorite dishes of ours include the anchovy & green bean salad, fried rice balls, baccala (creamed codfish over polenta), Spaghetti Nero (in a sauce of cuttlefish ink) and marinated sliced steak with greens. Geary oversees a very good wine list, while Levitt handles mixed drinks (Bacaro is great place to enjoy a well-made Martini or a Negroni). There’s also an excellent selection of grappa to end your evening.
The restaurant is closed during the daytime. You will find Geary and Levitt, strollers in tow, just about every weekend morning at the aforementioned Cafe Katja, enjoying brunch with the kids. They’re locals now. It’s one reason why Bacaro is looking ahead to a second decade on Division Street, even if it’s no longer their little secret place.