Fedora Dorato, legendary restaurateur, dies at 91

Fedora Dorato.

By ALBERT AMATEAU  |  Fedora Dorato, whose name graces the Village restaurant that was in her late husband’s family for more than 80 years and where she presided for 58 years, died Tues., Nov. 8, at age 91.

She continued working at the restaurant at 239 W. Fourth St. until last year when she sold the place to a local restaurateur who carries on with her name in lights.

Her health had been declining during the past year, said her daughter-in-law, Marilyn Dorato.

Fedora doted on all her patrons, celebrities, Village neighbors and tourists alike.

“She knew everyone’s name but she was totally unaware of who they were in the world,” her daughter-in-law said. “It didn’t matter how famous or rich they were.  She treated everyone the same.”

Named for the opera by Umberto Giordano, Fedora was born in Florence, Italy, and came to New York with her parents when she was 11 years old.

She met her husband-to-be, Henry Dorato, in 1939 but their courtship was interrupted when Henry went into the armed forces in 1942, according to a July 29, 2010, article by David McCabe in The Villager. They were married after the war.

Henry’s father, Charles Dorato, had opened the W. Fourth St. place as a speakeasy in 1919 and when Prohibition was repealed in 1933, Charles converted the place to a restaurant, Charlie’s Garden.

When Fedora and Henry were married in 1945, the location was leased to two men, Bill and Jerry, who ran the restaurant named after themselves. After Bill and Jerry left, Henry and Fedora took over in 1952, named it Fedora and lived in the apartment above the restaurant.

Fedora Dorato supported the enterprise while raising their son, Charles, named for his grandfather. From the beginning, the restaurant welcomed same-sex couples, unlike other establishments, but was not exclusively gay. Fedora told McCabe last year that police used to come into the place and ask Henry, who was the bartender, whether or not he served homosexuals. Henry would say, ”You want to ask them what they are, you ask. I don’t ask.”

After Henry Dorato died in 1997, Fedora took over the cooking and the operation of the restaurant.

In June of last year, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation honored Fedora as one of the people who gives the Village its special character. She proudly proclaimed her Greenwich Village roots, noting that her son, Charles, went to St. Joseph’s Academy on Washington Place and that the restaurant continues to serve neighborhood friends and grandchildren.

“Fedora Dorato was a Greenwich Village institution as was her much-loved restaurant, Fedora’s,” said Andrew Berman, G.V.S.H.P. executive director. “That neon sign and the food and hospitality are etched in the memories of generations of Villagers and visitors to the Village. She left her mark and she will certainly be missed,” Berman said.

In August of last year, Gabriel Stulman, owner of Joseph Leonard, a restaurant on Grove St., bought the W. Fourth St. place.

Fedora’s son, Charles, and his wife and a granddaughter survive. Perazzo Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements. The funeral was Sat., Nov. 12, at Our Lady of Pompeii Church.