Greenwich Village To Lose Another Landmark Venue, Cornelia Street Cafe and Underground to Close
The familiar red awning at 29 Cornelia Street will be rolled up and the red doors closed on January 2
By: Cornelia Street Cafe and Underground
The cafe was opened by three "starving artists" in 1977... Charles McKenna, an Irish-American actor; Raphaela Pivetta, an Italian-Argentinian-
Filled with emotion, Robin, a true champion of the arts, has begun to make the news known to regulars, to performers and to business colleagues. "I am sad to say that I am losing my oldest child," he recently wrote. "Cornelia has brought me both joy and pain, and it is with a broken heart that I must bid her adieu."
The Café has earned its place alongside La Mama, and the legendary Caffe Cino, which once inhabited the space next door, at 31 Cornelia Street. Like those artist hot spots, Cornelia became a magnet for creatives at a time when Greenwich Village was known as an artist community. From its launch as a one-room Café with a toaster oven and a cappuccino machine, it became a beehive of artist activity – it was a place where in the seventies songwriters congregated, and by their own rules performed only new songs written that week. Out of that over 5,000 songs were born and led to an album appropriately titled, Cornelia Street: The Songwriters Exchange, which was also the first and only non-jazz album put out by the now-defunct jazz label, Stash Records. Rod Mac Donald, David Massengill, Martha Hogan, Cliff Eberhardt, Michael Fracasso, Elliot Simon & Lucy Kaplansky were some of the artists who contributed early works to this historic album. In 1980 Stereo Review named it Best Album of the Month.
The Café has been the site of many firsts – it is the place where Philippe Petit ("Man on Wire") strung a wire from the tree outside the cafe and danced across it juggling, where The Roches, a vocal group comprised of three Irish-American sisters started out; where Suzanne Vega sang her first songs, where Eve Ensler launched The Vagina Monologues. Here a young John Oliver, Amy Schumer, and Hannibal Buress tested material. In the early 80's Cornelia Street went Clean for Gene, clearing the downstairs for Senator Eugene McCarthy (the good Senator McCarthy!) to read his poetry, and for the famous neurologist Oliver Sacks to read his prose.
That performance space which only recently became known as Cornelia Street Underground, has hosted over 700 events annually for more than 25 years and will continue right up until the doors are shuttered on January 2nd.
Just recently, one of the Café's regular performers, the multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist, jazz pioneer and one of America's musical treasures, David Amram said, "This special place cannot be allowed to close, it's too important. What a shame and what a loss it would be." Nobel Laureate Roald Hoffmann, who has curated a Science program at the cafe for almost 20 years, calls it "the bohemian café of your dreams."
Many performers who have had a long and intimate relationship with the Café have expressed their shock and dismay at the thought that come the New Year, Cornelia Street Café will be no more. Poets, literary ambassadors, comics, musicians of all genres who have made this their home away from home will no longer have this space or this stage. Foodies who have long known the Café as a place for a tasty meal at affordable prices will need to find another spot after the first of the year. And New York will begin the New Year mourning the loss of this unique and historic piece of its cultural history.
On its tenth anniversary (more than 31 years ago!) Mayor Ed Koch named the café "a culinary as well as a cultural landmark."