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West Village Art Haven Cornelia Street Cafe Will Close After 41 Years

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The restaurant has hosted showcases, performances, and readings and will shutter in January

Cornelia Street Cafe
Cornelia Street Cafe
Photo via Yelp/Tina C.

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.

Cornelia Street Cafe will close on January 2.