Wednesday, 28 January 2009


Cornelia Street Cafe at 23, Cornelia Street in the heart of Greenwich Village
New York is renowned as the toughest of markets for new dining projects - even in good times, 70% of new restaurants close down or change owners in their first five years. This statistic must give a reliable pointer to the pedigree of the Cornelia Street Cafe, which has successfully come through nearly 32 years of providing good food, wines and cultural inclined entertainment to the local 'literati', poetry aficionado's, modern music buffs, performance freaks, and visitors to the area alike.

The property on the quiet, charming and leafy restaurant row off Bleecker Street, was stumbled across by three artists in 1977. Robin Hirsch, a writer and director, Charles Mckenna, an actor, and Raphaela Pivetta, a visual artist, and thought it the perfect place to open a cafe.
From the outset it was a artists' cafe. Within a month there were poetry readings and music performances; and then a play written for the cafe; and fiction writers; and Eskimo poetry; and puppeteers; and a living portrait of James Joyce; and the Four Quartets and the entire Iliad; and mime shows on the street outside the cafe; and comedians; and fairy tales and storytellers and Punch and Judy Shows. Over the years it has presented an enormous variety of artists, from singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega to poet-senator Eugene McCarthy, from members of Monty Python to members of the Royal Shakespeare Company. It also provides a performance home to many literary and artistic groups such as the Songwriters Exchange and the Writers Studio.

And there is a real kitchen, which has garnered all kinds of acclaim, including the Village Arts Award for "inspired cuisine" knocking out good, tasty, well-presented, value cuisine. The colorful, if dated, eclectic menu is consistent with the cafe's 'bohemian' roots and leaves very few unsatisfied. In an age when 'must-find-something-spiteful-to-write' food critics moan about any establishment that is bold enough to keep to a more traditional and proven popular menu, it is refreshing to find one that 'bucks the trend' and eschews over-elaborate, much fingered, unnecessary-add-nothing ingredients and tepid food.

The performance space is downstairs where the tradition of theater, performance, and music is alive and well.

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