Thanks, Cornelia St. and Robin, for the magic

Robin Hirsch, longtime owner of the Cornelia St. Cafe, during an interview with The Villager in 2017. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic

BY KAREN KRAMER | We knew this place in New York City, in Greenwich Village. The food in the art-filled restaurant upstairs was good, but it was what went on in the cabaret downstairs that made the magic.

More than 2,000 people performed there every year. And although there are a lot of venues in New York with music or spoken word, here was a place that was so varied that several nights each month would be poetry in Greek or Romanian or Portuguese (“not at the same time,” the owner liked to joke).

And of course there was music…tango and classical and jazz and an African-American group singing in Yiddish. The monologists told their stories and composers (of varied levels of experience) debuted new work.

You could be a legend like David Amram who performs all over the world but made sure to make it back to the Village every month to play here. Or an unknown songwriter trying out edgy, groundbreaking material before an audience that welcomed it.

Upstairs the waitstaff was composed of artists, and you knew their names and they knew yours. (Not something that often happened in New York City.) You could hang out at the bar and easily talk to the person next to you, who more likely than not turned out to be interesting…a photographer who had documented Philippe Petit tightrope walking between the two World Trade Center towers or a visiting harpsichordist from Montreal.    

It is no small feat to keep a place running for 41 years in New York City. When the owner was forced to close down due to greedy real estate run amok, he decided to “go out with a bang not a whimper.” For two days, over this past New Year’s holiday, artists who had performed there during the last four decades came in to perform one last time, accompanied by others who just wanted to be there.

People flew in from England, from Australia. They came from Brooklyn and the Upper West Side, and Boston, and Bleecker St. And in between the music and the spoken word and the last storytellings were testaments to the importance of having a safe space in which to create, a physical space to form a community.

Goodbye, and thanks, Cornelia Street Cafe. Thanks, Robin. There will never again be anything like it.

5 Responses to Thanks, Cornelia St. and Robin, for the magic

  1. How right you are – there never will be another space like the Cornelia Street Cafe. Whenever i came to to New York from London – this was the place to visit. For over 40 years I came and I saw and I was conquered – from the little toaster oven to the Songwriters' Exchange to the fabulous food, the downstairs cabaret space providing everything from science to comedy to more music – Let us of course not forget the wine!! I was introduced to a pink Zinfandel in the middle of a summer visit – Heaven! As a UK Travel Agent we were delighted to recommend this wonderful venue to our clients who all returned to London happy to have visited this iconic and original venue (run by an ex-Londoner Robin Hirsch !). Who and Where should I now recommend that would in any way compare and compete with the iconic Cornelia Street Cafe?! It will be so sorely missed xx

  2. One of its unique qualities was it wait staff. They came and went, but uniformly professional, courteous, and accommodating. That was the mirror image of Robin.

    Anywhere in the West Village we can get good food, have some space to stretch our legs, read a newspaper and not be rushed??????

  3. A crushing cultural loss. Did storytelling there (hostess was Barbara Aliprantis) and a Janis Joplin impersonator short show greatest of memories. A favorite place to eat.

  4. What's up with the folks at the Washington Square Hotel? Didn't they do The Village Trip last fall, which is right up the same alley as CSC, so can't they find space in their building for the Cafe? I hear they are also Brit ex-pats.

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