Filomena Vitrano, 96, the owner of The Bagel

Filomena Vitrano in a 2003 article in The Villager on The Bagel’s closing. Villager file photo by Elisabeth Robert

BY GABE HERMAN | Filomena Vitrano, owner of the beloved Village restaurant The Bagel, at 170 W. Fourth St., for 34 years before its closing in 2003, and a lifelong Village resident, died on July 11 at 96 years old.

A funeral Mass will be held at St. Anthony’s Church, at 155 Sullivan St., on Sat., July 21, at 10 a.m.

Filomena was a lifelong Village resident, born on Thompson St. and then living on Prince St. for her last 75 years, according to son Peter.

She was active in the community, working the polls during elections for 25 years for the Board of Elections, and volunteering at the nearby senior center at Our Lady of Pompeii Church, at Carmine and Bleecker Sts. Every weekday after working at The Bagel, she would head over to the nearby church to serve food to seniors, “who were younger than her,” Peter noted.

Peter recalled that it was never made into a big deal when a celebrity came into the eatery. There were no photos taken to be put on the wall, for example.

“It was a very friendly place,” he said. “Everybody knew everybody. Most of the people that came in there were all artists in one field or another.”

Some of the famous faces included John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Julia Roberts and Sarah Jessica Parker. Ellen Barkin worked there for two years, “who we hired right off the street,” recalled Peter, before she made it as an actor.

“Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel used to be there all the time,” he added.

The Bagel, established in 1957, can even be considered part of film history, as De Niro would go there while he was gaining weight for his part in “Raging Bull.”

“He was eating like three orders of pancakes and eggs, he was trying to fatten up,” Peter said.

Before owning The Bagel for more than three decades, Filomena was the manager at the location’s previous incarnation as a delicatessen, according to Peter, which the actors still came to.

“My mother has stories of Steve McQueen,” he said. “He used to run up a tab and pay at the end of the week.”

“It was really a very ‘in’ place,” said Peter, who managed The Bagel and ran all of its daily operations during its final 10 years. “It was great energy.”

He noted that the shop’s full name was The Bagel Restaurant.

“It wasn’t that we had all kinds of bagels,” he noted. “It’s just that you got a bagel with everything you ordered,” including all types of omelettes, eggs, pancakes, French toast and more.

It was a small shop, with a charcoal grill by the window and long weekend lines of eager customers. Once they got in, people wouldn’t spend a long time in The Bagel because of its high demand.

“When people were eating, they knew to get up quick, because they know how it is to wait,” Peter remembered.

“She was a very easy person,” he said. “Usually other people would start conversations. She had a lot of charisma around people, people liked her… . I used to come up to the apartment and there’d be an actress sitting on the couch.”

Filomena was quick to help and praise others.

“Peter does everything here,” she told The Villager in a 2003 article by Albert Amateau on The Bagel’s closing. “He’s a perfectionist. If anyone is responsible for our reputation, it’s Peter.”

In the same Villager article, Filomena was proud of helping her employees to find new jobs.

“Nick Spadafora — he’s been here 25 years — he has a new job too,” she said.

At its closing, a waitress named Liz had worked there for three years, “but it seems like I’ve always been here,” she told The Villager at the time. “I told Peter I wanted to be here when I’m 65 and I’m kind of mad that it won’t happen.”

Filomena received a Village Award in 1993 from the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation for The Bagel’s longevity. The shop would eventually close 10 years later when its lease was not renewed by the building owner, who also owns the next-door Tio Pepe Spanish restaurant.

Filomena is survived by another son, Robert — a third son died at age 58 of lung cancer — and three grandchildren.

In her retirement years after The Bagel’s closing, Filomena remained at her place on Prince St. near the corner of Thompson St.

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