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Expressing Herself
From Ydiot America
June 29, 2002

Lika Ramati, one of the owners of Yaffa Cafe, Simone Café, and now the newly opened Mooza, sees inspiration all around her. The moment one walks into the restaurant one can tell that not just anyone has decorated it. Her restaurants are decorated in a fashion that is uniquely her own: gold candleholders, lamps with fringes, plastic flowers, and gilt mirrors.

When I asked the barman to tell me when she comes in, he replied: "You’ll know her when she walks in."

Mooza, located on Orchard Street, in the hot area of the Lower East Side, has an exotic decor. The walls are covered with a mixture of red wallpaper and gold tiger print. Lampshades with fringes hang from the ceiling and angelic statues are dispersed throughout the café. The mosaic floors lead you to a huge outdoor dining area. In its center lies a flowing mermaid fountain.

Suddenly, the barman calls out: "Hey Lika!" Into the café walks an understatedly elegant looking lady, in contrast with the rather loud surroundings. She is wearing a black suit, carrying a black bag, and wearing dark sunglasses. Her hair is jet black. She is Lika Ramati, co-owner of Yaffa Café and Simone Café in the East Village. And now Mooza. She co-owns these three cafés with her husband Amir. The flamboyant decoration unites all three locations. On the walls hang her photographic interpretations of modern day muses and self-portraits. She takes a seat under one of her portraits and lights a cigarette. When asked about her clothing she replies: "Black is the uniform of New York". The way she decorated Mooza, she explains, is "not a coincidence, everything in the café, including its name, was picked very carefully and behind it are very clear ideas. We named the place Mooza after the nine muses that are in charge of the arts. All of them were women, goddesses from Greek mythology, who offered inspiration in all the different creative arts." The whole story is written on the back of the menu. Pictures of these muses line the walls. "They create a feminine energy," which is important to Lika for a rather personal reason, "…that’s what emanates from me. We need more feminine energy in the world, it’s missing. The whole world is changing, yet missing feminine energy."

All the ladies in pictures have dark hair?

"I think that artists try to create themselves in their work."

When Lika was ten years old, she came to Israel from Lithuania. She settled in the Kiron, a town in the heart of Israel. Fifteen years ago, she moved to New York to marry her husband Amir (who she met in Israel) and has been living here ever since then. They have two daughters aged 11 and 13. Amir has been the owner of Yaffa Café since it opened 20 years ago. When they got married, Lika decided she wanted to redecorate the whole place. She and her family live above the Simone Café.

Mooza was opened a year ago in the Lower East Side in a neighborhood in the throws of a transformation into a place full of life, music entertainment and art coming out "like mushrooms after a rain." The food served there is southern European style.

What about its kitschy décor?

"Yes, it’s a kitschy and pop look with some humor. Kitsch is usually negative—but here the kitsch has harmony and everything works together nicely. My decoration is instinctive, not planned. If you collect what you like, in the end, everything comes together nicely. [There’s] no such thing as not mixing lines with dots."

Where do you get your inspiration?

"I loved the old hotels in Europe, I have a strong connection to Rome, and I am inspired by Andy Warhol, so I guess it is a combination of different things."

Lika just came back from a short visit in Israel. She has no desire to open any cafés in Israel. "Because of the situation, I don’t think Israelis feel like going to cafés," she says.

But the situation in New York is not so normal?

"But it is still not like in Israel," she replies. "This is New York, and people do not eat at home. You cannot predict anything. The situation in the whole world is not bright right now, is it? It affects people’s psychology. But if there is a quiet period, people will return to a stable situation."

Her attraction and love of New York, she explains, is simple. "I love New York because it is place where I have the opportunity to express myself."

Couldn’t you express yourself in Israel?

"It’s not that I couldn’t express myself in Israel, but [my life] came out this way. In New York, there is room for different things. Here one can be more courageous in a design sense. . . . There are so many places, and people look for something different and unique. There is a welcoming and friendly environment for this creativity. And this is what I personally like. I like to walk into a place and feel that I walk into a different world, and somehow it disconnects me from my life."

There’s no Israeli character to your places?

"The places are for everybody, not just for Israelis. Since we are in New York, many Israelis come to my places, even without an Israeli character. [My restaurants] have the character of the neighborhoods they’re in."

How do you match a place to the needs of the neighborhood?

"I actually live in the East Village neighborhood, so this is part of my internal feeling. I feel I know the people in the neighborhood because this is the neighborhood I always lived in and I love. I love the diversity that downtown New York has."

So you’re not moving uptown?

"Definitely not! I’m more of a downtown character. It’s more comfortable to have a mixture of everything, not a neighborhood of one kind of people. What’s beautiful here is that the art is everywhere, and you see it all the time. When I see these special people, it gives me inspiration."

Translated from Hebrew By Michael Shoretz.

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