Cornelia Street Café: a NYC Landmark Every Bohemian Should Visit

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Cornelia Street Cafe exterior
Courtesy Cornelisa Street Café
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The Cornelia Street Café Underground
Courtesy Cornelia Street Café
The Cornelia Street Café Underground

During the last 30 years, Cornelia Street Café has quintupled in size and has won numerous awards both for its food and for its performances.

The recently rebranded Cornelia Street Café Underground hosts 700 shows a year in the basement. Forming a non-profit to support the café’s arts programming is part of Hirsch's new effort to cope with rent increases. The Underground is a well-known jazz music venue, but also offers other types of performances including poetry (in 14 different languages), Brazilian music, Portuguese artists and more. 

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Robin Hirsch in front of Cornelia Cafe in NYC
Courtesy Cornelia Street Café
Owner Robin Hirsch and A-list Guests

This Greenwich Village gem has served several celebrities and their families throughout the years. A-listers like Sarah Jessica Parker had her first date with now-husband Matthew Broderick at Cornelia Street Café and Amy Stiller, Ben Stiller's sister (pictured above with Hirsch) is a regular performer at the café. 

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Cornelia Street Café exterior
Courtesy Cornelia Street Café
Cornelia Street Café History

Cornelia Street was originally part of a farm owned by the Dutch settler Robert Herring, who named the street after his granddaughter, Cornelia, in 1794.  Each building on the street has its own character and story, and even today there are several private residences—some with newly shellacked garage doors—sitting next to a row of Zagat-rated restaurants like Cornelia Street Café, Pearl Oyster Bar, Palma and others.

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Challah French Toast at Cornelia Street Cafe
Courtesy Cornelia Street Café
Dishes Like Challah French Toast With Fresh Fruit

When the Cornelia Street Café first opened its doors, there was minimal cooking space and a refrigerator display case. Now there are two full kitchens and two full bars which serve more than 30 wines by the glass. There are three dining rooms, one with a working fireplace. In the summer, there’s sidewalk seating, perfect for people watching. The Cornelia Street Café prides itself on being open seven days a week, so pop in for breakfast, lunch and dinner or brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. 

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Musicians Performing at Cornelia Street Cafe
(Courtesy Cornelia Street Café)
Musicians Performing at The Underground

Cornelia Street Café Underground offers several shows a night ranging from science to songwriting, from Russian poetry to Latin jazz, from theater to cabaret. In 1980 Stash Records released the award-winning album, “Cornelia Street: The Songwriters Exchange,” a collection of songs debuted at the café.

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Robert Cenedella at Cornelia Street Cafe
Courtesy Cornelia Street Café
The Special Art Exhibition of Robert Cenedella’s Work in 2018

An exhibition of works by the prolific American artist, Robert Cenedella, a contemporary of Andy Warhol, dinner and a screening of "Art Bastard," a documentary that chronicles the life of this extraordinary living American treasure, will be shown on February 21, 2018.  The evening offers the perfect opportunity to officially launch and announce The Underground’s new 501-C 3 status. Proceeds from the evening will go to support the continuation of this unique artist space. 

By Farah Lopez

In the summer of 1977, three artists stumbled across a tiny storefront in the heart of Greenwich Village; they thought it would be the perfect place to open a café and art performance space.

Little did they know that Cornelia Street Café would quickly become the heart of the bohemian village—with nothing more than a toaster oven and cappuccino machine when it first opened—and serve as the birthplace of off-off-broadway, the place where Eve Ensler would launch “The Vagina Monologues” and artists like Suzanne Vega would sing her first songs.

Now, 40 years after that summer, Robin Hirsch is the last original owner of the café, art gallery and basement lounge and he finds himself fighting to protect the institution against punitive rent increases from $450 in 1977 to an astronomical $33,000.  

Here are six reasons to visit and support this artistic landmark that uses its intimate space to celebrate local artists' work while nourishing the community with great music and food at affordable prices. 

Farah Lopez
About the author

Farah Lopez is the Marketing Editor and a French-Canadian transplant living in SoBro (South Bronx). Follow her food-o...