After 41 years of serving artists, dealers, and collectors quality northern Italian fare, Da Silvano closed after last night’s service. A restaurant perched on Sixth Avenue just above the streak of galleries that once ran through SoHo, Da Silvano became a favorite for the art world’s many patrons and participants, who continued to visit, with somewhat less frequency, when all the galleries moved to Chelsea.
The reason for the closure, according to owner Silvano Marchetto, is that age-old New York boogeyman: rising real-estate prices. From the New York Post:
A grim-sounding Marchetto blamed soaring operating costs including new minimum-wage rules and rent that escalated from $500 a month in 1975 to $41,000 a month today.
“I can’t do it anymore,” Marchetto said.
The restaurant’s popularity with the art world began as soon as it opened, in 1975. The timing was good as it was a few years after Ileana Sonnabend, Andre Emmerich, John Weber, and Leo Castelli all moved into 420 West Broadway, just a few blocks south, and there were not many quality restaurants nearby.
“After we opened, one day Leo Castelli came in and discovered the restaurant—the next weekend we were packed,” Marchetto said in 2013.
By the early ’80s, Da Silvano had become an institution. Witness this scene in Anthony Haden-Guest’s 1982 New York magazine cover story on Mary Boone, with the writer sitting at the restaurant with the young dealer and her mentor, Castelli.
Castelli, Boone, and I were lunching together with a female friend of Castelli’s, a dashing blonde with a Caribbean tan, at Da Silvano. “This is an important restaurant for the art world,” Castelli informed me, and added, indicating our neighbors, “That is an important table.”
The neighbors were a party lunching with Jasper Johns.
Castelli continued to fill a seat at his regular table for years, and in 1987 he hosted a pivotal event in New York City history: a dinner there for the first Art Against AIDS fundraiser, where Elizabeth Taylor’s star power finally made it, as the New York Times wrote the next day, “not only acceptable but desirable for other celebrities to become involved in the cause.” Castelli presented Taylor, clad in silk and diamonds, with a check for $400,000.
After Castelli died in 1999, his peers, partners, and competitors continued to come to Da Silvano. A 2000 Calvin Tomkins profile of Sonnabend could not have begun anywhere else:
Ileana Sonnabend enters the restaurant unobtrusively, wearing a shapeless gray dress that somehow looks elegant on her. She is eighty-five, plump, and slightly stooped, but the grandmotherly appearance is deceptive; there is a seignorial calm about her, and her glance is sharp and alert.
Other diners rise to greet her. She is well known here at Da Silvano, the art world’s reigning downtown hangout, which is only a few blocks from the SoHo gallery she has run for three decades.
Even after the galleries decamped from SoHo in the late ’90s, people still trekked to Da Silvano for special occasions. In 2000 Mary Boone told New York that she would go there for “meals with David Salle, Barbara Kruger, Francesco Clemente, and Sherry Levine [sic], the art-opening parties, the birthdays, the family nights out.”
“For a decade I went every Sunday night with my husband and son for dinner,” she said. “I’ve had hundreds of gatherings there. It’s the favorite restaurant of a lot of people in my life.”
(The place also had its more unsavory patrons. As the Post story notes: “In 2004, Britain’s Prince Michael of Kent notoriously, allegedly told a table of black diners to ‘go back to the colonies.’ “)
In recent years, you were more likely to see a B-list celebrity than a blue-chip dealer at Da Silvano, but still: the lower edge of the West Village and the upper edge of SoHo now has one less decent place to get dinner.