By Ernest Barteldes
Although for many Americans the end of summer is marked by Labor Day weekend, I feel the season is only really over with once the Feast of San Gennaro – the weeklong festival that celebrates Saint Januarius, the patron saint of Naples, the city where many Italian immigrants that landed in New York heralded from.
A New York City tradition that has taken place for almost 90 years, it is a joyous occasion that celebrates everything Italian – local restaurants extend their tables to the sidewalks of Mulberry Street while various vendors – sell a variety of items, ranging from religious artifacts to a great variety of foods, including sausages, cannoli and zeppoles.
The festival differs from the many street fairs that populate the streets of Manhattan during the warmer months. In the case of the latter, it is mostly the same group of vendors that sell things like pashminas or knock-off sunglasses and a variety of foods. Sure, some of those are visible at San Gennaro, but the reality is that the Italian-American festivity is more authentic than most (I mean, Dollar Thai food at the Hungarian Day Festival? Really?)
This year Renata and I waited for the last weekend of the festival to head out there – we decided to go on Friday after work, where we would meet with some friends. We got there earlier than our friends, and enjoyed a drink at the Mulberry Street Bar (also known as Sinatra’s Bar – go ahead, Google it), a mainstay in the neighborhood since 1908. The bar has often been used by Hollywood for movies and TV shows, including Donnie Brasco and Law & Order. When our friends arrived, we walked around for a while until they found a desirable food cart where they’d purchase their annual sausage, peppers and onions sandwich – a tradition Renata got into even if she traditionally does not eat meat on Fridays (not all of us did – I went for a slice at a favorite joint on Spring Street while another member of or party went for ravioli.
Following that we visited the Church of The Most Sacred Blood, the local shrine that holds the statue of San Gennaro that is used during the annual procession through the neighborhood. Originally erected by Italian immigrants, it has now little connection with the neighborhood’s former population – they don’t even hold masses in Italian anymore (the only one in Manhattan that I know that still has them is the Church of Our Lady of Pompeii in the West Village). It is a small shrine that is decorated with little opulence. Its doors are open throughout the festival, and they also provide much-needed restrooms for a nominal charge.
We then headed to Ferrara Bakery, where you can find some of the best Italian Pastries in town. In continuous operation since 1892, it is a local treasure that cannot be missed if you visit Little Italy. There we bought a few cannoli and other pastries, while outside they had their giant 7-lb cannoli – I am not sure what they do with it exactly, but I am hoping it doesn’t go to waste.
Two of our companions left us after that, so we headed to Mika Japanese restaurant just a few blocks away to sit down for a drink. There we were joined by a co-worker from ASA College (the same one who joined us during our last visit to Fire Island), and after a while we took another walk through the festival and stopped a at one of the restaurants along Mulberry for a final glass of wine. It was then that I realized it was past midnight, so we made our way to the subway, and we all made our ways home.
It was as always a very enjoyable experience – it is just too bad that San Gennaro also marks the beginning of colder days ahead.
Recipe: Frank Sinatra Cocktail
I am not sure where this recipe originated, but it’s basically a martini – but blue, in honor of Ol’ Blue Eyes. I don’t think Sinatra himself would have appreciated it – he was reportedly a Jack Daniels man.
3/4 oz Blue Curacao liqueur
1 oz sweet and sour mix