Cafe Loup, a cozy neighborhood restaurant whose walls are lined with photographs by Irving Penn, Bernice Abbott and Brassai, among others, in New York.

Photo: Matthew Weinstein/The New York Times/Redux

For New York’s anniversary, we are celebrating the history of the city’s restaurants with a series of posts throughout the month. Read all of our “Who Ate Where” stories here.

The first time I went to Café Loup, I was taken there by my editor at The Village Voice — he told me it was a writer’s restaurant. It was the 1980s, and I had published a couple of pieces there already, and it was clear they regarded me as an up-and-coming writer. So when we went, I was thrilled. I thought, Oh boy, I’m being initiated.

That was at the first location. Eventually, the restaurant changed and moved across Sixth Avenue to its final location, but I experienced it in both places and indeed it was a writer’s restaurant. It had its imprimatur, its definition, its personality laid out for me — and I, like every other young writer, became attached to it.

Why did writers go there? They went for one another. I mean, how does that happen? There were people at the bar and you’d think, How the hell do these people all come together? People would pick each other up, and I’m sure they had affairs and all kinds of things. You had the feeling it was one of those places where everyone somehow “knew” one another.

The owner for many years was a tall, statuesque blonde woman. She had that faculty of making everyone feel at home somehow. After I’d been there a few times, every time I walked in she greeted me warmly as if she knew me instantly. But she was like that with everybody.

The nicest part of the restaurant was the two-person tables along the wall, under the photographs and the lamps. It always felt immensely cozy and safe and good to be sitting at one of those tables. I don’t know why, but I know that for sure. I went there with many friends, and most of my friends were active feminists and gay men. Immediately, whenever I sat down, I ordered a glass of wine and waited for the evening to begin. I felt sure I was going to have one of the most wonderful conversations of my life. I rarely did.

The older I got, the more of a reputation I had. People came up to our table all the time. There were a lot of people there who were well-known writers, and whoever had a reputation, people at the Loup did not hesitate to come up and say, “I’m such a fan of yours.” I don’t mind that kind of thing as long as it’s not intrusive, and at Café Loup the people who came up to you were more sophisticated than that. They were very often your peers, or you in a different environment. That was very self-evident in the clientele. You looked around and always felt you were in the presence of educated, middle-class, intelligent readers. That was who went. As I got older, the people at Café Loup got younger but the atmosphere essentially did not change.

I’d usually have dinner there with a single person, and we’d sit at those tables against the wall. I had dinner there many times with my friend Phillip Lopate, and I had dinner with Susan Brownmiller there a number of times, too. Martin Duberman was a friend I’d go there with. Sometimes you’d be talking about someone — maybe a book of theirs had been published or reviewed and you were gossiping about the review — and then suddenly there they would be, walking into the restaurant.

Almost every single time I ate at Café Loup — which increased many, many times over the years — I always met somebody I knew. All kinds of writers gathered there, and after the New School’s many writing events, everyone would troop over to Café Loup. When you were there, you didn’t feel you were among people who were concerned with making money. There was nothing of the fashionable sense of New York there — no computers or Wall Street types at all.

The food was ordinary. It was edible. There was nothing distinctive about it except for the chocolate pudding. It was delicious. I remember my mother making chocolate pudding from the package when we were children, and the chocolate pudding at Café Loup brought it all back to me.

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