Nuyorican Poets Cafe, an East Village icon, begins a $24M makeover

The Nuyorican Poets Cafe, which has been a pre-eminent downtown performance space for a diverse assemblage of poets, writers, musicians and artists for more than 50 years, has launched a $24 million, city-funded renovation that organizers hope will ensure the cafe’s future for decades to come.

The cafe’s Executive Director Caridad De La Luz said in an interview that some existing elements of the century-old property at 236 East Third St. would be restored, including its brickwork and façade. But she added that much of the structure would be gutted.

The transformed space will include a new main lobby, two theaters instead of one, a garden and dressing rooms. The addition of classrooms will also allow the cafe to reach new audiences and students through workshops.

“It’s going to be incredible,” said De La Luz, a spoken word poet who goes by La Bruja.

Rendering of a stage inside a reimagined Nuyorican Poets Cafe

Rice+Lipka Architects

The work would help preserve what has long been an edgy, iconic and culturally rich performance space in the East Village. The Nuyorican Poets Cafe closed in November in preparation for the makeover. De La Luz said she was pleasantly surprised to discover at a groundbreaking on Thursday that the timeline for the entire renovation had been accelerated from three years to two, putting the completion date in spring 2026.

Thomas Foley, commissioner of the city’s Department of Design and Construction, confirmed the two-year timeline.

“One of the things that we’ve been striving for as a city is to build better, faster and cheaper,” he said.

Rendering of bar space inside a reimagined Nuyorican Poets Cafe.

Rice+Lipka Architects

The work will also increase accessibility through the addition of new ramps on the outside and an extra elevator. The overall project, Foley said, would help the cafe “cast a wider net into the community” over the next 50 to 60 years.

The $24 million tab includes more than $9 million in funding procured with help from City Councilmember Carlina Rivera, according to her office. Rivera, who grew up in the area, called the cafe “an iconic cultural institution, the birthplace of a movement and something very meaningful to Puerto Ricans from Loisaida and across the city.”

We’re not going anywhere. We are here.

Caridad De La Luz, executive director of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe

The Nuyorican Poets Cafe was founded in 1973, first in a living room salon in the apartment of Miguel Algarín, a writer and poet in the East Village, “along with other playwrights, poets and musicians of color whose work was not accepted by the mainstream academic, entertainment or publishing industries,” according to the cafe’s website.

The popularity of the events led organizers to start renting an Irish pub at 505 East Sixth St. In 1981, they purchased the current building, a former tenement, that serves as the cafe’s permanent home.

In his 1999 book “Poetic Culture,” author Christopher Beach noted the cafe drew “middle-class whites from Queens and Bensonhurst, Latinos from the Lower East Side, Blacks from uptown, and visitors who have come to this mecca of slam poetry from Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston or Dublin.”

Poet Allen Ginsberg called it “the most integrated place on the planet,” a quote the cafe displays on its website.

The scene inside The Nuyorican Poets Cafe on Thursday. The iconic performance space has begun a $24 million renovation.

The Nuyorican Poets Cafe

De La Luz said the building had been beset by problems in recent years, including a roof with “six layers of patchwork.”

“So, every time it rains, it could possibly crumble in and fall in because of the weight of those layers,” she said. “It’s been dangerous at some points. Our electric grid is outdated. You couldn’t plug two major things in without it blowing the grid.”

She said the Nuyorican Poets Cafe also faced gentrification pressures and the reality of a neighborhood that looked nothing like it did in the 1970s and ‘80s. That made the city’s investment in the cafe much more meaningful, she said, crediting a host of officials, including Mayor Eric Adams, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine and councilmembers who “see the importance of what it is that we do here.”

“We’re not going anywhere,” De La Luz said. “We are here.”

Source link


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *