November 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

NOV_11_2012_550pxWhy do we have music, and what does it do to us? Psychobiologist Harry Witchel reveals the answers. He will relate the science of music to humorous anecdotes from the history of pop culture, to unveil why music makes us feel so good — or why the wrong music makes us feel so bad. He will be joined by cellist Raul Rothblatt (fresh from his gig with the New York Philharmonic) who demonstrates the power that music has.

Dr. Harry Witchel is Discipline Leader in Physiology at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School in the UK.

Raul Rothblatt is a cellist and composer, who has three bands: Kakande, Életfa , and Dallam-Dougou.


Sad and Sudden News

March 28, 2012 § 4 Comments

You will be as shocked as we were to learn that Judith, our partner, our dear friend, who has been a pillar of this cafe for so many years, died on Friday night.  Apparently in her sleep, apparently of cardiac arrest.

She was present at the creation, when Charles, Raphaela and I started this little joint almost 35 years ago.  She had been an actor with Charles in a couple of plays I directed and she called me up one day in 1977 to say that Charles had given up that profession (the theatah!) for an equally meshuggene one–he was going to open a cafe.  I called him up to ask about this nonsense and within a few days we had decided to go in on this mad venture together.  He enlisted his then girlfriend, the beautiful Raphaela, and within two months, the three of us–Charles, Raphaela, and I–opened the notorious one-room cafe with the notorious toaster-oven and the famous espresso machine.

Judith was with us in spirit from day one, and physically as soon as we made enough money to have someone come in to do the books.  Then Charles and Raphaela took off for Italy for 41/2 months (for which I have never forgiven them) and Judith and I ran the cafe.  She became de facto our first manager and did the books for years.  In the early 90’s when there was a recession (there were such things in those days, but you are too young to remember), her father died, she inherited some money, and–whoopee!–she became a partner.

Her husband Johnny, who was fifteen years older than she, unbelievably survives her.  He fought in the Battle of the Bulge, he  worked for Bell Atlantic as an engineer for much of his life, in his spare time he was a cartoonist and a playwright (we did one of his plays downstairs), but he began over the last eight or ten years to disappear into the twilit world of Alzheimer’s.  And Judith began to devote more and more time to his care.  Some years ago she made the painful choice to move him into a home.  For the last several years she bicycled up religiously every day to tend to him.  For the last several years he has not recognized her.

We recognized her from the beginning as a beautiful, sturdy, indomitable soul.  We do still and we will continue to do so as long as this little joint still stands . . .

We have put the beautiful picture of her by Jim Moore –from an exhibit here almost thirty years ago called Women on a Pedestal–in the window.  She will always be on a pedestal for us.
There will be a memorial service at 11am on Saturday April 14 at The Friends (Quaker) Meeting House located on 15th Street just west of Second Avenue

The family requests no flowers. Instead donations may be made in her name to The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (

with love,

Robin, Charles, Raphaela, Bob, Dan and the whole Cornelia Street crew


March 23, 2012 § Leave a comment


I know (or knew) Mike Daisey (well, not well).  He performed a number of times (once or twice, quite possibly three times, certainly a number) at a restaurant/performance space I used to own in Brooklyn.

He has also performed at a restaurant/performance space I still own (or co-own), and have co-owned for almost 35 years, in Greenwich Village, called the Cornelia Street Café: the number here is harder to ascertain since we do 700 performances a year (more or less, two more than more or less if it’s a leap year) and if you search our website (–go ahead, don’t be shy) his name comes up more than fifty times, mostly as Mike Daisey but at least once as Mark Daisey.  The “more than fifty” number is because Sherry Weaver who ran a series here for five or six years (the website can’t properly corroborate the first year) inserted it into the copy for her show, which was called SpeakEasy, and which had “a dynamic and constantly changing cast of storytellers that include such greats as Mike Daisey, Jonathan Ames, and Reno, along with homemakers, lawyers, dog walkers, street magicians and writers.”

Last Saturday I was in Colorado.  I took my younger son to the airport in Eagle after a week of skiing and drove back to Edwards with the intention of sitting at a café/bookstore called Bookworm (or possibly The Bookworm) to catch up on e-mail and contemplate the arduous business of finishing a memoir.

Did I say “memoir?”

Yes, I too commit “memoir.”  The memoir I am trying to finish is a book of café stories—write what you know—which, in some weird way, is a follow up to a, believe it or not, Holocaust-related memoir, which was published some fifteen years ago (actually seventeen, but I would like it to have been less).

Just as I pull into the mall in Edwards, Ira Glass pops up on NPR and devotes an entire program to deconstructing a previous program in which Mike Daisey had not lived up to a journalistic standard of the truth.  He had misled Mr. Glass, his producer, and the whole production team.  He had even, according to Mr. Glass, lied.  I sat in the car for a full hour, enthralled.

I was no clearer after it was over than I had been when it began whether journalistic truth trumps dramatic truth.  I have a hard time with “the truth” anyhow.  I sat down at an outside table—it was quite balmy—with a large coffee ($2.25).  Somebody at a neighboring table told his companion that Mike Daisey was a liar.  I had the temerity to interject and say I knew Mike Daisey (not well).  Did he really think Mike Daisey was lying?  Yes, he did, he had turned off after just a few minutes because it was clear that Daisey was a liar (he used the noun, never, I think, the verb).  Was there no latitude, I asked, in telling a story?  What about the history plays of Shakespeare?  How closely do they hew to Holinshed?  How closely did Holinshed hew to history?  That’s different, he said.

We smiled at each other; he returned to his conversation, I to my laptop.

On it I was wrestling with a story I should have written thirty years ago (maybe more) when it was fresher in my mind.  In the doorway one morning when I arrived at the café was a large bundle, next to the Voilà delivery (croissants, brioches, pains au chocolat); the large bundle was a homeless man, whom I now had the hapless job of rousing.  I let him wash up while I set up.  I put a table in the doorway with two chairs.  I warmed up croissants, brioches and pains au chocolat, I made espresso, and I steamed eggs on the cappuccino machine (our lone warm specialty in those early days).  I joined him at the table and we breakfasted together.  He had seen better days, he had been in the Merchant Marine, he had had plenty of time to read, and he had devoured Shakespeare.  We discussed the history plays and how closely they hewed to Holinshed.

I told him that when the first customer arrived he would have to leave.  He understood.  Customers were few and far between in those days and we discussed Shakespeare for a good two hours.  At a certain point two ladies arrived and indicated they would like to be served.  I indicated to my table companion that the time had come.  We rose, he kissed me long and hard on the mouth, and took his leave.

These bare outlines I remember.  I have a paragraph.  Somehow it needs to blossom into a story.  A version of, certainly not the, but perhaps a, truth.  I’m thinking of calling it “Shakespeare.”

And, à propos titles. the working title of the book itself came in a conversation with an editor, an habituée of the café a good twenty years after Shakespeare (or maybe eighteen), who congratulated me on a complimentary review of my first book that morning in the Times and asked—that question all writers surely dread—what I was working on now.  “Well,” I fumbled, seventeen years ago, “I’m sort of thinking about writing a collection of stories about the café, you know, what happens to a Wandering Jew when he finally stops wandering and stands still and opens the doors and, well, the whole world passes through.”

“Great title,” she said.

The book is provisionally titled The Whole World Passes Through.   As it currently stands, it opens with a tiny story from the early days, a sort of amuse-bouche, called “Stanley.”  Stanley was a former American tennis champion, who now made his home in Kenya.  He would show up at the café intermittently, passing through from Africa on his way to some Masters Tournament in Florida or Hawaii or Mexico or on Long Island, and each time he would allude to a café in Nairobi of which Cornelia Street reminded him.  “You know,” he would say, “there’s a place like this in Nairobi.  You never know who’s going to be there.  You just know, when you walk in, that somebody‘s going to be there.  Someone you know from a former life, a different continent, another galaxy—a pal, an acquaintance, a lover, a movie star.  Someone you know, or someone you knew, or someone you don’t know yet but you will, someone you may spend the night with, carousing, or the rest of your life. And you go away and you come back, a hundred times, a thousand times, and it’s always the same.  But if you stick around, which maybe a handful of people do, sooner or later the whole world passes through.”

Did I make it clear he didn’t actually say those words?  He should have.  He would have.  He does now.

Robin Hirsch founded the Cornelia Street Café with two other artists in 1977.  He is the author of Last Dance at the Hotel Kempinski (1995), every word of which was written to be read there.

Happy Birthday Langston Hughes

February 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

Paul Hecht‘s ongoing series celebrating the birthdays of poets with words and music continues this Monday with an evening devoted to the life and work of Langston Hughes. Hosted & directed by Hecht, featuring the mighty and sometimes mohawked Malesha Jessie, pianist Ellen Mandel, and actors Denise Burse, Michael Early and Phillip James Brannon.

Feb 13, 6pm. Visit our lovely website or call 212/989-9319 to make reservations.

Ted Berkowitz + Cornelia Cuvée

February 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

The fiery hand of Ted Berkowitz has steadily chronicled our Café since he first wandered downstairs in the early oughts. An exhibition of his work, variegated figures caught in between glances and strikes of the keys, opens at 5:30 this Tuesday eve in our back room.

That same night at 7, we celebrate the birth of Cornelia Cuvée. After decades of tasting, and many awards for our wine list, we have finally succeeded in putting our name behind, and our labels on, two wines grown and vinified for us in California by the Millbrook Winery which makes some excellent New York State wines less than 90 miles up the Hudson from us.

They own vineyards in California, where they make a small amount of exceptional Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Our designer John Morrison in tandem with Wine Czar/Minister of Culture/Dean of Faculty Robin Hirsch has designed these beautiful labels

Appellation: Central Coast, California

Clones: Pommard, David Bruce, #667 and Calera Burgundian Dijon clones

Blending Information: 100% Pinot Noir

Harvest Date: Sept. 17, 2009

Harvest Brix: 24.5 degrees

Time in Oak: 8 months

Bottling Date: June 24, 2010

Sensory Evaluation: The cooler temperatures California’s Central Coast vineyards make this the ideal site for cool climate varietals like Pinot Noir. Ripe flavors of cherry, plum and strawberry and soft tannins encompass this well-balanced wine.

Appellation: Central Coast, California

Clones: #76, #95, #96 Burgundian
Dijon clones

Blending Information: 100% Chardonnay

Harvest Date: Oct. 1, 2010

Harvest Brix: 24.2 degrees

Time in Oak: Oak was not used

Bottling Date: April 30, 2011

Total Production: 667 cases

Sensory Evaluation: Bright and floral on the nose with a touch of ripe peaches and pear. On the palate, the wine is fresh with good richness and flavors of exotic fruit.

Five Jews, No Waiting

February 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Sooner or later, the whole world passes through.”

On January 11th, Robin took to the stage as he often has, this time not as emcee but reader, Café Stories in hand. The chapters chosen that evening told of how he’d come to invert his vagabond world and make a one-room West Village hideout into an improbable magnet for the dispersed many. It was a perfect inauguration to the Café’s first-ever JewFest, a monthlong performance series gathering together some of those far-flung Jewry to speak, play and sing what all they’d encountered in their travels. JewFest brought to Cornelia Peri Smilow, songstress of the American Jewish songbook; Daniel Cainer, “Comic Bard of Anglo-Jewry”; kinetic mystic Yehuda Hyman, who resuscitated Nachman’ s Seven Beggars, and Larry Josephson, veteran apostle of a free radio powerhouse still felt today. Throughout the festival, artist and chronicler Ted Berkowitz bore witness by hand. His work now hangs in the Café’s back room, awaiting its opening this Tuesday eve, at which point we do hope you’ll pass through too.

New Year’s Eve at Cornelia Street Café

December 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

Our spactacular New Year’s Eve Grand Dinner is served from 5:30pm

$75 per person

($60 if you pair it with any of the shows)

a la carte menu available in the bar room & downstairs

(Click here to view the NYE menu (PDF))

…and in our downstairs cabaret


10:30pm – The Arturo O’Farrill Quartet

Arturo O’Farrill, piano; Bill Ware, vibes; Alex Blake, bass; Jaime Affoumado, drums  

We are thrilled to have the great Arturo O’Farrill–Grammy Award winning pianist, composer, educator, and winner of the Latin Jazz USA Outstanding Achievement Award–return to Cornelia Street with his sensational quartet.  Son of the legendary Cuban-American composer and bandleader, Chico O’Farrill, he was born in Mexico and grew up in New York City. He has played piano with Carla Bley, Dizzy Gillespie, Steve Turre, Freddy Cole, The Fort Apache Band, Lester Bowie, Wynton Marsalis, and Harry Belafonte. He is the founder and leader of the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra and their first album Song for Chico (Zoho Records) won the GRAMMY Award for Best Latin Jazz Album of 2008.  In February of this year, Arturo and the ALJO released their third and newest album, 40 Acres and a Burro, which has been nominated for a GRAMMY in the Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album category for 2011.

For more on Arturo, visit his website  and watch the video below about his return to Cuba.

Oye Cuba! A Journey Home - Preview Reel
Oye Cuba! A Journey Home

Early shows in the cabaret:

5:30 pm – Andy Christie’s Liar Show

For this special New Year’s Eve edition, The Liar Show welcomes Leslie Goshko (Manhattan Monologue Champion), Andy Ross (Mad Magazine), Andy Christie (NY Times; WFUV), Ed Gavagan (The Moth Radio Hour)

8:00pm – The O’Farrill Brothers Quintet

As the sons of GRAMMY award-winning pianist Arturo O’Farrill, Adam and Zachary O’Farrill have performed in some of the most prominent jazz settings, including the Carefusion Newport Jazz Festival, Monterey Jazz Festival, Marian’s Jazz Room, and the Mount Fuji Jazz Festival. They are now stepping forward with their own band, and their own debut album, Giant Peach, which Wall Street Journal says, “bristles with confidence and creativity.” The band provides an eclectic mix of styles in jazz, with innovative, original compositions. Ever since their formation in2009, the O’Farrill Brothers Band has performed in some of the most exciting venues in NYC, such as Birdland Jazz Club, The Jazz Gallery, Cornelia Street Café, and more. The band members have performed with the likes of Joshua Redman, Stefon Harris, Esperanza Spalding, Arturo O’Farrill, DJ Logic, Branford Marsalis, Bob Mintzer, and Slide Hampton.

Please call 212/989-9319 or visit for reservations. 


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