Cornelia Street Cafe — an iconic space in NYC’s literary, music, and art worlds — will close in January after over four decades in West Village, as first reported by Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York.
Artists Charles McKenna, Raphaela Pivetta, and Robin Hirsch established Cornelia Street Cafe at 29 Cornelia St., between Bleecker and West Fourth streets in 1977. At the time, it was a simple art gallery and performance space that, according to the restaurant’s website, and merely had a toaster oven, a cappuccino machine, and a refrigerator display case.
Over the years, the cafe grew into a full-service restaurant with two kitchens, two bars, three dining rooms, and a fireplace. It added breakfast, lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch menus. Currently, the cafe serves a throwback casual bistro menu with some international tinges, including dishes like huevos rancheros, steam au poivre, and Thai bouillabaisse.
The cafe continued to be a cultural fixture through the years, hosting hundreds of performances a year. According to a Times story from 2002, singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega rose to fame here, and Eve Ensler first read The Vagina Monologues publicly at the cafe in 1993. World-famous high-wire artist Philippe Petit also once strung a wire from a tree outside the cafe and juggled across it.
It has been a gathering place for writers, poets, artists, composers, storytellers, playwrights, and musicians throughout the past four decades, hosting readings and serving as a place for creatives to workshop new material.
The restaurant has struggled in recent years, its fate becoming uncertain as rents continued to rise in West Village. In 2017, the New York Times reported its 40th anniversary, noting some of the uncertainty about the establishment’s future. According to the Times, the rent for the restaurant and its basement performance space at the time was $33,000 a month, which is 77 times what the rent was when it opened 40 years before — not even adjusting for inflation. DNAinfo also reported in 2017 that there was a contentious relationship between longtime owner Hirsch and the new landlord who took over in 2002.
In the official press release, Hirsch described the closure as losing his oldest child. That mournful sentiment has been echoed on social media, where regulars, artists, and writers have lamented the cafe’s impending closure, including executive director of the Academy of American Poets Jen Benka and Time Out New York theater editor and critic Adam Feldman.
Another literary light in the Village is about to go out. The Cornelia Street Cafe, an important venue for poets, artists and musicians for the past 40 years, is reportedly scheduled to close in January. Heartbreaking. https://t.co/5ZU8ZERZPT pic.twitter.com/jG64NpUNoS— Jen Benka (@jenbenka) December 12, 2018
Just learned that the Cornelia Street Café, a hub for songwriting and storytelling and live music, will close on January 2 after more than 40 years. Sigh. https://t.co/1d1ryrKcPl pic.twitter.com/4pIE5nc4oL— Adam Feldman (@FeldmanAdam) December 11, 2018
Sad day when beloved institutions must close due to rising rents. We lose the character of our city. https://t.co/Vh07MA1okK— Stephanie Bazell (@StephanieBazell) December 12, 2018
The only thing harder than trying to make it as an artist in NYC is keeping an indie performance space open. We're losing another good one with the closing of Cornelia Street Cafe https://t.co/QGuEplzlH0 pic.twitter.com/uLhIkl2Qsw— Metro New York (@metronewyork) December 12, 2018
My mother the poet Charlotte Mandel has done readings at the Cornelia Street Cafe in Greenwich Village - it will be missed, sigh, always a-changing:https://t.co/mfzGeiTlna— Nora Lee Mandel (@NLM_MavensNest) December 12, 2018
Cornelia Street Cafe will close on January 2.
- Cornelia Street Cafe [Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York]
- Cornelia Street Cafe Struggling With High Rent After 40 Years In Village [DNA Info]
- Greenwich Village To Lose Another Landmark Venue, Cornelia Street Cafe and Underground to Close [Official press release]