New York is losing another icon of its bohemian art scene with the closing of Greenwich Village’s restaurant and performance venue Cornelia Street Café.
The little coffee shop that grew into a beloved restaurant with a vibrant underground performance space for artists of all kinds will close its doors at 20 Cornelia St. on Jan. 2, 2019 after 41 years.
“I am sad to say that I am losing my oldest child,” owner Robin Hirsch announced. “Cornelia has brought me both joy and pain, and it is with a broken heart that I must bid her adieu.”
Though he did not specify the reason for closing, rising rent has been a problem. DNAinfo first reported on the cafe’s struggles in March 2017 when Hirsch called rent increases “extortionate,” rising from $450 a month when Cornelia Street Café opened in the ‘70s to $33,000 now.
“We are now paying effectively 77 times what we were paying and if you were to invert that — which I think is an argument for commercial rent stabilization which doesn’t exist in New York — you would be paying $77 for a croissant,” he told reporter Danielle Tcholakian.
Started by three struggling artists in 1977, it began as just a coffee shop, “one small room with an espresso machine and a toaster oven,” as the owners describe it. Started by Hirsch along with Charles McKenna and Raphaela Pivetta, Cornelia Street Café grew into a beloved restaurant that former New York City Mayor Ed Koch called “a culinary as well as a cultural landmark,” as well as an art gallery and an underground performance venue hosting 700 shows a year.
The cafe welcomed a diverse crowd of performers who would go on to become household names. Before he strung his daredevil tightrope between the World Trade Center towers, Philippe Petit juggled across a rope strung from a tree outside. Indie singer Suzanne Vega got her start on the same stage where Eve Ensler first performed The Vagina Monologues. It nurtured the Off-Off Broadway community, and comedians John Oliver, Amy Schumer and Hannibal Buress all tried out their material there.
Whether you were there for a jazz concert, poetry night or play reading, the performers weren’t just onstage. Your glass of wine may have been served by then-aspiring singer Stefani Germanotta, aka Lady Gaga.
— Karissa Krenz (@Radishgirl) December 12, 2018
The landmark Cornelia Street Café is planning to shutter down January 2. @SenSchumer. This can’t happen. It just can’t. It’s too much a part of New York as was Elaine’s, Tavern-On-the-Green.Historic places reinforce our sanity#GreenwichVillage
— One L (@AWiseLatina) December 12, 2018
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
IRL friend over to FB alerted me to Cornelia Street Cafe’s closing. And I had to say: This city has always been going to hell.
— Regina Schrambling (@gastropoda) December 12, 2018