Robin Hirsch told stories about the now homeless Cornelia Street Café. Photo by Karen Rempel.

By Karen Rempel

Those who have been mourning the loss of the Cornelia Street Café might be heartened to know that the café lives on. The currently homeless Cornelia Street Café recently crossed the East River to host a series of evenings at the Brooklyn Commons. The trio of evenings included performances by many Cornelia regulars in the café’s popular formats of poetry, music, storytelling, and entertaining science.

Robin Hirsch, the café’s owner and self-titled Minister of Culture, entertained a full house with stories from various points in the café’s history. His stories were by turn moving and hilarious as he described highlights of interactions with patrons, the café’s trials and tribulations navigating the various bureaucracies of New York City, and natural disasters such as fallen arches. The café had a profound impact on countless people’s lives. One woman named her daughter Cornelia after she spent a serene, mystical afternoon at Table One of the sidewalk café.

That same evening, the Arturo O’Farrill Trio took the stage for a set of eclectic jazz selections including original compositions and a wild-flying version of the Beatles’ “Blackbird.” The trio features six-time Grammy award-winning Arturo O’Farrill on piano, Bam Bam Rodriguez on bass, and Zack O’Farrill (Arturo’s son) on drums. Arturo was the final performer on the café’s stage on January 1st, along with his sons and friends. As you will recall, this was the day the café closed its doors on Cornelia Street. Naturally, Robin invited Arturo to be part of the reprise.

Arturo began playing at the Cornelia Street Café in the early ’90s, and recalled the impact it had. “Cornelia Street was sacred to so many of us. It’s a place I really got to cut my teeth as a leader. We had a residency at Cornelia Street; we had a band and played every week and it was just a completely unique opportunity to fuck up. And you can’t do that when you’re so convinced that your career is on the line. The places that give you the freedom to play from deep inside are rare. I grew up mentally and musically at Cornelia Street. I met some of my favorite musicians there, whom I still play with. And also it’s a place that didn’t have the pretense of commerciality; it was really down home. Even when it was erudite, there was never an air of ‘You’re not welcome to this club.’ Very inclusive. It made all of us feel better.”

There were familiar and new faces in the audience. At the end of the evening, Robin described his feelings about taking Cornelia Street Café on the road. “It’s alive, it’s alive… It’s wonderful! One tap dances through the apocalypse and it’s wonderful to have this kind of congregation.” One of the themes of Robin’s stories was finding a home in the Cornelia Street Café. With his home uprooted, Robin doesn’t yet know whether he will find a place to set down his tent, or continue to wander in the wilderness.

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