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.

Paul Motian, 1931-2011

November 23, 2011 § 2 Comments

This week Cornelia Street Café marks the loss of Paul Motian, a legendary drummer and powerfully influential musician whose long career coursed through many transfigurations of Jazz. Motian performed regularly and in the company of musicians young and old up until the very end of his life, sustaining an inimitable verve & intelligence while battling persistent illness. Of late Motian became the closest Cornelia has had to a house drummer, appearing nearly a dozen times with stalwarts and upstarts from Dan Tepfer to Tony Malaby to Samuel Blasser; his last performance at the Café came at the end of September, with Kris Davis. His absence will be deeply felt in our Downstairs, as it is through the world of Jazz and beyond.

Make Music New York @ Cornelia Street Café, Pt. II

June 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

Tomorrow between 4 and 6pm, Cornelia will make a block party of a side-street. To this end, and through the dedicated work of singer-curatress Jean Rohe, we have assembled an expert platoon of ourdoors musicians, specially-trained for just such an occassion. Says Rohe, “programming for MMNY appealed to me because I believe live music needs to be and can be in our lives without being mysterious, expensive, or separate from the day-to-day. I myself love busking in the street (I have my own secret favorite spot in SoHo with great acoustics and lots of ogling tourist traffic). MMNY just takes busking to another level. Minus the hat-passing.”

Yesterday you met the Xylopholks, costumed buskers extraordinaires. They will be joined by the sublime vocal masters of our Bel Canto series, led by former Met chorus master Eugene Sirotkine. There will be periodic punctuation by our upper-story neighbor, trumpeter Mr. Leif Arntzen.  Shakuhachi Ensemble will bring truth-seeking Eastern wind instruments out in force. And ensemble Red Light New Music will not so much perform as incite a musical piece for 111 bicycles.

Things you may wonder: What is a Shakuhachi? How do a hundred bicycles add up to a work of music? And what on Earth will all of this look and feel like?

We have answers. James Nyoraku Schlefer, Shakuhachi Grand Master: “The sound of the shakuhachi is quite special. The instrument is made from a single piece of thick bamboo and its sound has a deeply penetrating yet earthy tone. The traditional music is from an ancient tradition associated with the practice of Zen Buddhist meditation and that repertoire focuses on sound rather than melody, rhythm and harmony as does Western music.”

As far as the bicycles? There is a why and a how. Vincent Raikhel of Red Light New Music: “We feel that it is essential that a work be both viscerally and intellectually stimulating, while not taking itself to seriously. Kagel was a rare composer who was able to weave his music seamlessly with the world of the theatrics while being honest and resisting silliness.

The audience should be prepared for a charming and interesting event- that will hopefully make them smile and think about the nature of performance and the music that surrounds us in our daily lives. The bikers will ride past, ringing, singing and making air sounds. And, as soon as they ride past, the piece is over and the day will move on to the other great musicians who we are performing with us on Tuesday, both on Cornelia street and throughout the city.”

When asked what audience-participants might expect, perhaps it was Jean herself who put it best: “Oh, only an unbridled feeling of joy and possibility. It’s the longest day of the year in the greatest city in the world, 111 bicycles, 5 xylophones, 3 basses, 2 guitars, 12 shakuhachis, 6 singers, one palpitating heart in your little ol’ chest.”

We hope to see you there.

For more information about the daylong concert-doing marathon known as Make Music New York, including a schedule of all that is set to occur, please visit their website at If you’d like to follow the festivities outside with a bite to eat, please peruse our foodly offerings at or call 212/989-9319

Radio Cornelia

March 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

This week we celebrate the inauguration of Cornelia Street Cafe’s new podcast series “Live From Cornelia Street”. Every week we broadcast another new and outstanding recording made from our very own downstairs. Visit this page to access our embedded player or simply click here to subscribe via iTunes. Artists already featured include Tim Berne’s Los Totopos, Tom Rainey Trio, Matthew Brewer Quintet, and Jeff Davis Band. In this way we continue to bring the best of 29 Cornelia Street to our friends everywhere beyond its walls.

Strike Anywhere Brings Haiku Flights Downstairs

March 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

On Friday March 11th, The Cornelia Street Café will present Strike Anywhere Performance Ensemble in a new theatre piece entitled Haiku Flights.  Strike Anywhere was formed in 1997, and has since come to be known as one of the most innovative and exciting theatre companies in New York. We recently had the chance to chat with artistic director, Leese Walker, and to hear a little more about the company’s origins, their current work, and whether a course on the history of jazz can help shape a theatrical vision.

Leese, tell us a little about Strike Anywhere’s mission statement, and its origins.

Strike Anywhere’s mission is to promote empathy, freethinking and greater social awareness through provocative theatre and educational outreach.  We are guided by the words of Bertolt Brecht, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.”  I really respond to that idea.  Back at Dartmouth, I met a political theater artist from Nicaragua named Alan Bolt and even though he was only at school for 3 days, he really opened my eyes to how theater could be used to address current issues, to instigate dialogue and to make change.

Theater has been in my blood since I was a child.  My parents love to tell the story about how we would go over to my grandparents every Sunday when I was a kid and after dinner we would listen to an entire album of a Broadway musical.  I would sing and act it out.  They used to fall off the couch laughing watching this little 5 year-old dance and belt her guts out to the song from Chorus Line, Tits and Ass.  Ai Yai Yai!!! By the time I was 9, I was organizing the neighborhood kids and making plays in the backyard.  I was selling tickets, making the programs, casting, directing, performing….things haven’t really changed all that much I guess!

Strike Anywhere really grew out of an improv class I was taking in the mid-nineties.  Four of us decided to meet outside of class to experiment with the ideas and techniques we were learning in class.  After about two years of meeting every Sunday night, we took our sessions into Central Park and started sharing our experiments with an audience.  After a summer of learning from the audience, we decided to make it official.  In the fall of 1997, we held auditions and that is really when SA was born.

Of course it was a very different company then.  Back then, we had 5 actors and one musician.  Now the balance is very different, we have 3 kick-ass jazz musicians, a modern dancer and 2 actors.  But back then, we were really working with long-form improv, using forms like the “Harold” which is a structure to guide an evening-length improvisation.  Music took more of a back-seat role then, it served as accompaniment, mood, and though it sometimes dictated endings or instigated a tempo change in the scene, our violinist, Todd Reynolds, used to stand for the most part, on the periphery of the playing space.  Today, we strive to have equal balance between the disciplines, to have an actor back-up the musician or comp when a dancer takes the lead.   Musicians are front and center – they have left the edge of off-stage.

How do you begin the creation of a new piece? Will the initial thought process be purely ensemble oriented, or will one person bring an idea to the group with the hopes of fleshing it out further?

Usually one person will bring an idea to the group.  If there is enough passion around the idea, we go forward.  Once we are working on a piece, I will bring in ideas to lead our experiments in rehearsal.  However, it is critical that everyone has a voice.  I have an amazing group of performers who work well with this process.  No egos.  That is key.  Everyone has to be willing to put forth an idea that may or may not be accepted by the group.  Including me…although I could overrule something, I rarely do… I strive for consensus and I set up situations to instigate performer-generated material.  If it comes from the performer, it will be far richer than if I impose it on the performer.

Sometimes we create work that directly addresses a current socio-political issue, such as this new show we are working on called SAME RIVER.  It’s an interview-based show about how fracking, a controversial natural gas drilling technique, is affecting people’s every day lives.  Other times though, shows might not be so obviously political.  However, the ethos of the company is really reflected in the way we operate…we are an ensemble and so power is shared laterally.  I think of myself more as a facilitator than a director.

Tell us about Haiku Flights. What can we expect to see on the 11th?

Haiku Flights will be totally improvised.  We will bring in a series of haikus.  Someone will read a haiku and that will serve as the launch pad for an improvisation.  It is material from which we will improvise.   Donna might create a movement phrase that comes directly from an image in the haiku while Rolf might mirror that movement physically while playing a minimalist phrase on the guitar.  Perhaps Damen will be inspired to launch into a monologue of a character that grows out of the repetitive musical phrase.  Its totally open.  Anything could happen!

Finally, I must admit I’m curious….You and I took a famously wonderful jazz history class in college together. I see how much of a role jazz plays in your work now, and the thrilling way you’re able to merge jazz into a theatrical idiom. Is it safe to say that discovering a passion for jazz helped shape your vision as theatre artist, or do you find that jazz and other idioms simply help layer an already fervent theatrical vision?

I adore jazz.  I lap it up.  That is so funny that you bring up that class….god that feels like a million years ago but you hit it.  That jazz history class really sparked my love for the music.  That was at the same time that I discovered John Coltrane and it was a real awakening for me musically.  That was the beginning of diving into jazz, of listening to this incredible art form.  Over the last 6 years or so, we have been examining jazz structures and concepts and applying these to theater and movement.  It’s been really exciting to come at the work from this angle.  I am incredibly lucky to have such bad-ass musicians.  Rolf Sturm is probably one of the most sensitive and giving musicians you will ever work with.  Bob Bowen, our bass player who died this past fall, he taught us all so much about trust… trusting the moment, the players, ourselves…his famous mantra was, “Let it suck” which is essentially a way of saying, trust that what comes out is the right thing, that the other players will support, build and develop that idea so that it will be the right thing. Rob Henke is just hands-down one of the best improvisers around.  He is our trumpeter.

So borrowing my notes from that class helped?

You bet!  Of all the people’s notes I borrowed, yours were the most legible!

Joshua Rebell is a playwright and Spoken Word Curator at the Cornelia Street Cafe. He is also fluent in Jazz and speaks several dialects of LA. Eager readers, speakers and performers can show love and petition him for stagetime at


January 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

Cornelia Street Cafe continues to extend its reach ever further into the world-wide-web. Last week, to even our own surprise, we successfully broadcast our New Year’s Eve celebration live across the globe via ustream. With this, our homespun TV channel has entered the world. Can CSC radio be too far off? You can also now browse our packed-with-brilliance calendar from the comfort of this selfsame window–no more side-trips to the next tab over (or farther!). This blog also now resides at alongside the menus, contact infos, and other vital matter. Did we mention you can now make reservations with the click of our new ‘Reservations’ button? And it looks great, thanks to the talented

This month our artist interviews return alongside new forays into the archives, plus facetime with the men and women that make Cornelia run, from kitchen to cabaret. We continue all the while to work on the ways we already reach you, from weekly emails to daily twittering. Of course you’ve still got come down here yourself sometime and catch an edition of Entertaining Science or The Liar Show (or one of our other 698 yearly offerings). Meanwhile you can always email us at, even just to say hi.

Mothership Down

December 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

As some of you may already have discovered, our main site,, is experiencing technical difficulties. The source of the problem remains a mystery; we’d like to think it’s the same inclement weather that’s shut down our insomniac city. We have been given every assurance that the duly-equipped twice-certified server wizards of Earthlink are hard at work deep in the caves of Jersey.  Until then, please reference the vital information below:

The Cafe is open. Reservations and inquiries of all kinds can be made by dialing 212/989-9319 Anyone still waiting to make reservations for NYE better do so quick; we’re running out of space and neither Paul Shaprio nor Andy Christie will be bribed for comps.

Meanwhile tonight’s shows, unless nature intervenes, are Hydrogen Jukebox at 6 and Melody Fader with Sue Barston at 830. You can continue to follow our calendar as usual via Twitter.

Watch this space for more updates! Stay tuned!


November 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

from the archives of Robin Hirsch, Minister of Culture, we present an ongoing historical pre-blog

It’s noon.  José-Luis calls down to the office and says, “There’s an old friend at the bar who wants to surprise you.”  I come up.  At the bar is an old man, bald, with a fringe of white hair.  He’s on a cane.  I haven’t a clue.  As he limps towards me, his face hoves more clearly into view. “Hello, Robin,” he smiles.  “Gary!”

More than fifty years ago, we had been members of the same Jewish youth group in London.  It was called the Phoenix and the name was carefully chosen.  It was the youth group of a congregation founded just before the war by German Jews who had fled Hitler.  It was the hope of the founders after the war, after the Holocaust, that out of the ashes a new generation might rise to carry their wan flame into the future.

Gary’s parents had emigrated to America when he was fourteen, so his membership in the Phoenix was brief.  But he had played Shylock in our production of the trial scene from The Merchant of Venice, so when he left it was a palpable loss.  He had real talent even then.  Years later he trained as an actor at the Yale School of Drama.  He returned to England to play in Cyrano at the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park the same summer that I came to America.  We passed in mid Atlantic, he on the SS United States going east, I on the Queen Elizabeth going west.

He had a successful career in England—at the RSC, at the National, in the West End.  A couple of times he came to New York to star on Broadway—with Alan Howard in Good, with Jim Dale in Joe Egg.  He even stayed with us during one of those runs.  I had seen him several times since.

But his appearance today is a jolt.

He has on his arm an attractive middle aged woman.  “This is Helen,” he says.

“Gary, what are you doing here?  Are you in a play?  And what’s wrong with your leg?”

“No, we’re in New York because we both had time off.  We came down to the Village because I wanted to show Helen the café.  What luck that you’re here.”

“And your leg?”

“I just had an operation.  It’s not as serious as it looks.”

Helen, it turned out, was a TV producer.  They had met when she was producing a show for David Frost.  Gary had become quite famous in a TV series called The Vicar of Dibley and Helen wanted him to come on the Frost show as a guest.  He turned her down.

“He’s quite shy, you know,” Helen said.  “In contrast to me.”

“She has a knack,” Gary said, “of going into a room anywhere in the world—Sydney, for example—and saying, I have to sit over there, next to that person, and as often as not there turns out to be a connection.  You’re a little like that, aren’t you?”

I explained that I had to meet my wife and that we were going to be out of town till Sunday, but I’d love to have them for dinner if they were free on Sunday evening.

Accordingly that Sunday night we sit down outside at O6, the farthest table to the right as you look out of the café.  We eat, we laugh, Gary and I reminisce.  Helen seems interested in everything, our shared youth, the shadow of our dark history, the café.  She comes downstairs to listen to a little jazz; Gary can’t make it because of his knee.

Dinner progresses at a leisurely pace.  Conversation is easy and fluid.  It’s one of those clear autumn nights, still warm enough for the doors to be open.  Every table outside is filled.  The usual complement of people passes by and says hello.

Suddenly at 10:30 there is a huge hullabaloo at the end of the street.  A firetruck is trying to make the turn, but it’s very tight.  Sirens are screaming, people are shouting, a car that is blocking traffic is moved.  Two firetrucks pull up outside the café and dozens of firemen in helmets and bulging uniforms jump out, brandishing pickaxes.  I am immediately terrified that they are going to smash our glass doors and lay waste to the café.  I jump up to find the captain.  “Ladies and gentlemen, the cabaret,” I say to the startled customers and run up to the lead truck.  “Excuse me, what’s going on?  Is it our building?”  The sense of urgency seems to have abated.   I turn round and look at the truck head on.  It’s my turn to be taken aback.  “Gary, Helen, come here.”

Painted on the front of the truck in immaculate gold letters is its name: “The Phoenix: Risen from Ashes.”

The next day I get an e-mail from my sister in London saying the Phoenix is having a reunion in two weeks.  Is there any way I can make it?

I had been the chairman for three years, from the age of fourteen to the age of seventeen.  It was at the Phoenix that I first learned the importance of community, a lesson which I took with me into the theatre and eventually the café.

How could I not go?

It was heartwarming, intense, deeply moving.

There were people I still knew, people I vaguely remembered, people I hadn’t seen or thought about in fifty years.

But they all had one thing in common.  Every single one of them looked as old as Gary.

October 2010

The Changes of Fall

October 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

Chef/Partner Dan Latham shares his thoughts on the seasonal shifts outside and on our menu.

Fall.  Summer departs and the season of real food arrives–the braising of meats till tender, the roasting of winter squash, the pressing of apples into cider. Now comes the beautiful color of change, a time to slow down and reflect, and the chance to let go and create.

Outside there is a snap in the air.  In the kitchen, too, we are falling into Fall.  From up the river we bring in Hudson Valley Duck which we roast,  gently turning the breast into Magret which we serve with a warm Pear Sauce and Mashed Sweet Potatoes laced with Goat Cheese. A new found connection in my quest for local, this upstate duck farm reminds me of the duck I knew growing up.  Beautiful crisp skin, a deep red rose color, the meat bursting with juicy flavors.

Raised in the Finger Lakes, this is the season I love.  Raking the turning maple leaves into huge piles to jump into. The smell of autumn left on my jacket.  In the vineyards the grape harvest in colors from deep purple to mossy green.   The vegetable garden is nipped by frost, the yellow orange butternut squash and deep acorn squash stand out ready to be picked.   In this spirit at the Café we slowly roast Butternut Squash to infuse our Mushroom Risotto drizzled with Truffle Oil and Shaved Parmesan.

My daughter loves the cool weather.  Me too!  It is the time I can bring out the slow cooked Belgian Beef Carbonade, Lamb Shanks tender to the bone, Duck Confit cooked in its own fat,  and Short Ribs slowly braised in a Fall Vegetable Gravy spiked with local Six Points Beer and resting on Parsley Mashed Potatoes.  A thin moist layer of fat between the meat, yum!

Fall… apples fall, pears fall, time for ciders, pies, crisps, cinnamon, brown sugar, butter and cream.  At the start of school every year we would travel along Keuka Lake to the Apple Barn to pick our Macs, Empires, and Cortland.  We sampled the orchard to find the perfect sweet, crisp, sour bite.  Then hot cider.  So… The Berkshire Pork Loin with caramelized apple and a cider reduction, perfumed with smokiness from the grill.   And to finish, our Pastry Chef has been making a Pumpkin Bourbon Ice Cream with a chocolate stirrer.

Come join us–take a trip to Cornelia Street to see the changes of Fall.



October 14, 2010 § Leave a comment


from the archives of Robin Hirsch, Minister of Culture, we present an ongoing historical pre-blog

One early evening in July, our lovely host (I can’t quite remember which one, but all our hosts are lovely) called down to the office and said, “There’s a woman at O1 (O stands for outside, and O1 is the first table on the left if you’re facing out from the bar room) who says she was here seventeen years ago and she would like to speak to you.  I am a sucker for these kinds of moments, so of course I came up.  At O1 were three people—a mother, a father, and what I assumed was a daughter.  I introduced myself and the mother asked me how long I had been here.  I said that this month we were celebrating our 24th birthday and that I had been here since the day we were born—indeed from the moment of conception.  I detected an accent.

“Where are you from?”

“From Germany.”

“I taught in Germany a hundred years ago.”

“Oh, really, where?”

“In the Ruhr, at the Ruhr Universität Bochum, in the first year it opened, 1965.  I understand it’s quite big now.”

“Oh, my sympathies.  Yes, it is huge now.  But it is no more beautiful.  May I present my husband?’

“How do you do?”

“And my daughter.”

“How do you do?”

“She is about to go to university.  But in Heidelberg, I am glad to say, not in Bochum.”

“And what brings you here?”

“Well, to America, we come on holiday.  But to your café we come for a quite specific reason.”


“I was here at this table seventeen years ago.  I was alone.  My husband stayed home with our son, who was a baby.  It was a beautiful day.  I remember it very clearly.  I was pregnant and I sat here at this table and it was such a perfect day and the light was just right—this time of early evening—and I was very content.  And I said to myself, I will always remember this moment, on this street, at this café, at this table.  And I said to myself also, if this is a girl I will call her Cornelia.”

And she extended her hand and said, “May I present you my daughter, Cornelia?”

So, of course, we opened a bottle of champagne and we took photos of the family, and of the four of us, and of the café from the outside, and of the famous table at which, seventeen years before, this beautiful young woman had acquired her name.

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