Volume 74, Number 38 | Jan. 26 - Feb. 1, 2005


Elsie Cardia, 77, restaurateur promoted Italian culture

By Ed Gold

Elsie Garaventa Cardia, who owned the Beatrice Inn for 50 years, and was a conspicuous promoter of Italian and Italian-American cultural activities, died last Tuesday at St. Vincent’s Hospital from complications after surgery. She was 77.

Known to all as Elsie, Cardia had been honored with the Knighthood of Malta, and the Italian Legion of Merit had named her cavalierato and commandatore for her continuing organizational work in literature, music, drama, dance and other charitable and cultural areas.

She was born in 1927 on the Lower East Side, where her grandfather owned a marble factory, and as a very young child moved back to Italy with her immediate family. She returned to the U.S. at age 17, to a very crowded dwelling on Carmine St. in Greenwich Village. In the late 1980s, the Cardias bought a condo on W. 12th St. to be near the restaurant.

She had gone to high school in Italy and would have liked to continue her education here, but as her son, Aldo, pointed out: “The family at that time didn’t think a woman needed an education.” In 1951, after a 10-day courtship, she married her husband, Ubaldo, who died in 1993. He had been in the Italian Navy and had been sent to the States with other seamen to bring back to Italy two destroyers the U.S. was giving to his country under the Marshall Plan. The Italian sailors said they were looking for wives with Italian backgrounds, and Elsie came running.

Having bought the restaurant in 1955, the Cardias wisely purchased the building in which the restaurant was located, with its 12 apartments, in the late ’60s.

Elsie Cardia had good instincts for real estate acquisition and bought several buildings in the West Village through the ’70s, to which son Aldo said: “Thank God.” Her father had told her “four walls” were important for financial security and Elsie Cardia had taken his words seriously.

The restaurant has a storied history. At one time, members of the Algonquin Round Table, made famous by Dorothy Parker, used to lunch at Beatrice Inn.

When John Lindsay was mayor, he scheduled an inaugural dinner at the restaurant. Other notables also had their share of pasta, veal and wine there, like Charles Kuralt of CBS, the artist Jack Levine, the musician Larry Adler and several political figures, like George Arzt, a consultant for Eliot Spitzer, New York attorney general and a likely gubernatorial candidate; and Henry Stern, the former Parks Department commissioner. The inn also served as a setting for Woody Allen and Mia Farrow in the film “Another Woman.”

During Cardia’s long reign, and before much of the West Village turned residential, the restaurant was a noisy luncheon retreat for printers, union activists and Port Authority personnel. Both of her children, Aldo and daughter Vivian, have long been associated with the restaurant.

The decline of corporate business activity in the area is reflected in a warm letter, still preserved, sent many years ago to the inn by executives at Lynn Brothers telling the Cardias and staff what “wonderful people” they were, then adding that an outstanding bill of $148.40 could not be paid due to lack of funds.

Cardia’s persona was conspicuous throughout the years. She hopped from table to table, telling patrons with fervor and warmth about her many activities. As her son noted: “You didn’t talk to my mother, you listened.”

Those who listened mostly sat in the little room, or “saletta,” which has the characteristics of a cozy club, the members of which honored Cardia in a Times ad, noting the “happy hours” and “great meals” they enjoyed at the restaurant.

While she definitely liked the good life, she was also serious about the world around her.
Cardia collected Chinese snuff bottles and loved wearing pearls because the Italian queen had loved pearls. But in the mid-’80s she established a prize through the Board of Education for the fifth-grader who wrote the best essay on “Promoting World Peace.” She was inspired, she wrote at the time, by a sign in front of Judson Memorial Church on W. Fourth St. quoting President Eisenhower. It read in part: “Every ship that is launched, every rocket that is fired signifies in the final sense a theft from those who are hungry and are not fed, and those who are cold and not clothed.”

She was an outspoken liberal politically and was vocal in her disappointment about the recent presidential race.

Surviving Cardia, besides her son and daughter, are her daughter-in-law, Randi; two grandchildren, Ali and Dani; and a great-grandchild, Nicholas.

Funeral arrangements were made through Perazzo Funeral Home. She chose cremation. A memorial service will be held at Casa Italiana, 24 W. 12th St., on April 16, when Italian dignitaries are expected to participate.

The family requests that those wishing to honor her memory send contributions to the Our Lady of Pompei Capital Fund, 25 Carmine St., New York, N.Y. 10014.

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