North Enders have noticed that Caffe Graffiti has been closed so far in January with no activity other than the Christmas tree blowing around on the ground in its outdoor seating area. Now, Boston dining scene websites are speculating it may be more than just a seasonal closing. While other restaurants simply close for a few weeks in the slow winter period, most businesses post a sign or get the word out, especially if they are renovating or re-opening (e.g., Damiano’s to Carmelina’s & Mare Renovation).
Calls and emails to the owner/management of Caffe Graffiti have not been returned, but it is no secret that the relatively new Cross Street locations along the Greenway are having a tough time. Graffiti moved to the space after closing its popular Hanover Street location that became Damiano’s, and now Carmelina’s. Graffiti re-opened just a couple of years ago on Cross Street as more of a full restaurant than the neighborhood cafe it was on Hanover St.
Cross Street Plaza, located at the site of the former Martignetti’s Liquors on the new Greenway, looked like a stellar location with great promise and became known as the “Gateway to the North End.” Not only does it feature the famous Freedom Trail path in front, but it also spans the busiest commercial areas in the North End, between Hanover St. and Salem St.
The building landlord, Citizens Bank, took the prime spot at the Hanover Street corner for its own ATMs with bright green signage to capture the attention of all cars coming out of the Big Dig tunnel and traffic entering the main business area of the North End. (Interestingly, Beacon Hill residents are rallying against a similar change on Charles Street.) Longtime North End businessman, Frank DePasquale opened DePasquale’s Pasta Shop and a Gelateria next to the ATMs with Nick Varano’s Famous Deli in the middle and Caffe Grafitti on the Salem St. corner.
The promise of the Cross Street Plaza is still waiting to be realized. The large brick covered area is oddly desolate. None of the storefronts appear to have gained much momentum. In addition to signs of strain at Caffe Graffiti, proven businessman Nick Varano put his deli up for sale before recently taking it off the market. Varano has now applied for a beer and wine license, telling the Neighborhood Council that the new offerings could help in what has turned out to be a difficult location. (See Nick Varano’s Famous Deli Receives Unanimous Support at Neighborhood Council.) Perhaps it not the location, but a general malaise hurting retail throughout downtown Boston.
Although daytime parking was eliminated from part of the plaza, North End resident and Zoning Board member, Angelo Buonopane told the neighborhood that the City has not delivered on promises made for improved infrastructure for the plaza. When the Greenway opened, the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city officials talked about having permanent seating and tables for residents and visitors to sit and linger. However, some of that seemed to change as part of the BRA’s Greenway District Planning Study which shows the block redeveloped, buildings closer to street and five-stories high, rather than the existing low-rise structure.
Back to Caffe Graffiti. Its name remains on literature for the upcoming CityFeast benefit on January 29th and its website is still active (though its Facebook page is not). The cafe has been dormant in the past, notably during the move from Hanover St. The business also saw some ownership changes in the past year along with a new menu. More changes could be coming or perhaps a sale to another owner that may or may not include the well-known name.
Only time will tell what happens to the longtime North End cafe, but signs of change are in the air for the “Gateway of the North End.”