The Decline of West Village Civilization

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    NEWSLETTERS

    John Capone
    HSBC announces its arrival on Hudson and W. 11th Street.

    Nothing kills the flavor of a neighborhood like the arrival of a bank. Especially the modern bank with its flat screens and gaudy 24-hour glowing facades. Hudson Street, which has been suffering for some time, died a little more today. The sign, like a kiss of death, was posted over the brown paper covering the large windows this morning announcing the opening of an HSBC branch in the former location of a lively West Village favorite, Mamma Buddha.

    The neighborhood was much dismayed when Mamma Buddha shuttered last year, with someone going so far as to post a sign speculating (in colorful language) as to whether or not the neighborhood really needed another boutique. Well it's not the umpteenth Marc Jacobs location to land in the neighborhood, but it is something worse: a bank -- about a block from the Hudson St. Chase. One passerby griped that the block did not need another bank, but when asked, he conceded that he doesn't have an HSBC account.

    Besides the loss of one of the few decent places to get Chinese in the area (Westies do still have Baby Buddha on Washington St., though) this newest neighborhood-soul sucker drives another nail into the coffin of Hudson Street, which has endured a rash of eatery closings, starting with the Hudson Corner Cafe (just across the street from Mamma Buddha), which has been shuttered since 2007. Following that, in the last year Da Andrea (which reopened a few blocks away), Monster Sushi (no great loss there, actually), Pizza Luca, Valdino West, and Bourbon Street Southern Gourmet Pantry all closed. Expanding a few blocks out, Miracle on Bleecker, Jarnac on Washington, and Delicia Brazil further down W11th Street, have also recently joined the trail of restaurant carnage.

    The speed and totality with which these closings have desolated large swathes of Hudson is alarming. The giddy controlled nostalgia of the High Line is no match for the creeping pessimism that grows in a simple walk down the block. The stroll brings to mind a Kurt Andersen essay in New York magazine last October, in which he tours the area and thinks the worst:

    The other night, as I drove down one of New York’s more conventional and lovable Main Streets -- Bleecker, west of Sixth -- looking at the glowing shopfronts and bustling restaurants and strolling pedestrians, I had a sudden elegiac impulse to register the scene and its details. Because, I thought, once a Depression descended, these same blocks would look and feel very different; in 2010 or 2011, I might think back to this particular evening -- autumn! Twilight! -- and remember how sweet and jolly the city had felt and looked not so long ago.

    A sort of restaurant nihilism can take hold. Nothing in this regentrified world is permanent after all. And if the West Village isn't sliding into the ghetto abyss, it is at least sliding into suburbia.