It’s that time of year again…time for Village Preservation’s Annual Meeting and Village Awards! The Village Awards recognize and honor some of the businesses, organizations, and institutions that make our neighborhoods such special places to live, while our Annual Meeting also includes a review of Village Preservation’s activities and accomplishments over the past year. This year’s event will be held on Wednesday, June 16, 2021 at 6:00pm and you can register HERE.
One of our honorees this year is the East Village restaurant and supper club Pangea, located at 178 Second Avenue. Opened originally in 1986 as La Spaghetteria, in 2015 Pangea started programming music and performance in addition to serving its customers delicious fare. As stated on their website, “Pangea is known for supporting artists of all persuasions; offering an essential safe-place for taking artistic risks; and for its delicious and spirited Downtown hospitality. Its role as an incubator for New York, in a city where the cost of living has become prohibitively stratospheric for artists, is seen as vital to preserving the East Village’s identity as a counter-culture hotbed.” The New York Times has called Pangea a bohemian oasis not unlike Max’s Kansas City in the NY gone by.
The hosts, Stephen Shanaghan and Arnoldo Caballero, have heroically kept this place open during the pandemic for outdoor dining, and have made it a warm and welcoming place for performers, diners, and audiences alike. Stephen studied cooking in Italy and worked in a number of New York City restaurants before opening Spaghetteria along with his long-time partner Arnolodo. Originally opened in 1984 on East 7th Street between First Avenue and Avenue A, the restaurant “took off” and stayed in business until 1989. In 1986, the pair expanded with another restaurant called La Spaghetteria at the current location of Pangea. Stephen said that because of the rise of low-carb diets in the mid-1990s, they changed the name of the restaurant in 1996 to Pangea, and changed the menu to include a wider range of options beyond pasta. By 2014 the City outlawed smoking in restaurants, so the back room of the restaurant, which had been the “smokers’ room,” was converted to a cabaret space at the suggestion of one of the owners’ many artist friends. Thus was born Pangea in its current configuration: dining room and bar in the front room, and beyond a short hallway, the intimate cabaret room in the back.
Slowly but surely, the cabaret space became more and more widely known as an incubator for local artists with a broad and eclectic range of performance styles, from traditional cabaret and the American Songbook, to multi-media, experimental performance artists, to musicians with political messages. According to the owner, many performers have loved coming to Pangea to try out new material before they launched a tour or played a larger venue. A few notable performers include musician/activist Stephen Said, performance artist and former Village Preservation award winner Penny Arcade, and Broadway’s Michael McAssey.
Last September, Pangea was named alongside such well-known venues as Birdland, Joe’s Pub, The Duplex and Feinstein’s/54 Below as “a haven for alt-cabaret artists” by The New York Times. In addition to supporting performing artists, the restaurant features rotating art exhibits by local visual artists in the cabaret room, and murals by East Village artists Jody Morlock and William Engel in the main dining room in the front. As Stephen says, “all of this happened organically.” Local artists from Stephen and Arnolodo’s large circle of friends would make a suggestion, and often that suggestion would then become a reality.
When we asked how the last year had been, we heard a tale of extreme hardship coupled with resilience and resourcefulness. Initially, a Go Fund Me campaign raised some money for the restaurant. In addition, Stephen obtained two Paycheck Protection Program loans, but they do not cover rent, which in NYC is by far the largest expense in running a restaurant. In October, after six months of shutdown, two artists, Penny Arcade and Tammy Faye Starlight, separately recorded videos in the cabaret room, each of which was shown as a video on demand for one month each to raise money for Pangea and to support the artists.
In spite of many obstacles over the past year, the restaurant is open, and Stephen is upbeat about the future. Around the end of 2020, 22 local artists volunteered their talents to produce a virtual fundraiser which raised about $10,000 for the restaurant and kept them going, a testament to the affection and regard in which Pangea is held by the artistic community of the East Village and beyond. Stephen and Arnolodo, as mutually committed advocates for nurturing performance and the visual arts, realize artists depend on having accessible, creative spaces to experiment and grow. They are determined to remain contributors to the cultural and social life of the community for both artists and their loyal audiences.
So please join us in celebrating this cornerstone of East Village cultural life on Wednesday, June 16th! To learn about other 2021 Village Awardees and to register for the event, click HERE