The Cornelia Street Cafe, a 41-year-old institution that became a magnet for artists in Greenwich Village, has announced it will close its doors on January 2nd, 2019.
In a press release, the cafe called its time at 29 Cornelia Street a "long and sometimes challenging run," noting, "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."
Owner Robin Hirsch has been telling regulars, performers, and colleagues about his decision. "I am sad to say that I am losing my oldest child," Hirsch wrote. "Cornelia has brought me both joy and pain, and it is with a broken heart that I must bid her adieu."
The restaurant and venue celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, and Hirsch told us at the time that his rent situation was "impossible," noting that his starting rent in 1977 was $450/month, but it had changed 77 times since and was $33,000/month. His publicist Sam Mattingly added, "It's a really hard environment for small business owners and the city has not yet been able to convince Albany to pass laws that support and protect small business owners from greedy landlords."
Last year, we looked at the history of the space:
It took Hirsch and his business partners at the time, Charles McKenna and Raphaela Pivetta, two months to make the "depressing" space fit for human occupancy back in 1977. Con Ed had turned off the power, so they were forced to work in darkness, and local landlords had been using the space to drink Thunderbird and let their dogs run wild.
When they first opened, there wasn't a concrete plan to turn the space into the legitimate venue it's known as today. "What I imagined was, 'We'll open and see what happens,'" Hirsch says. Because the trio were all artists, other artists started to congregate at the space, too. Philippe Petit occasionally strung up a wire outside and would juggle for the crowd. Songwriters—including Suzanne Vega, who got her start at the Cafe—gathered on Monday nights to perform compositions they'd written that week. It was a place for communion and celebrating creativity.
Hirsch recalled, "The three of us who opened it were all artists. We opened a little one room cafe with a toaster oven. We signed a five year lease and all I thought was, 'How are we ever going to do this for five years?'"