Cornelia Street Café, a Pillar of Greenwich Village Experimentation, Closes Its Doors | Modern Society of USA

Cornelia Street Café, a Pillar of Greenwich Village Experimentation, Closes Its Doors

Cornelia Street Café, a Pillar of Greenwich Village Experimentation, Closes Its Doors

Suzanne Vega sat backstage at the Cornelia Street Café on New Year’s Day, remembering when she had first stepped into it almost four decades ago. She was 20, an undiscovered talent, and it was a Monday night. She had come to try out material on the young troubadours and folk-revival survivors who attended the weekly Songwriters Exchange there.

The cafe had sprung up in 1977 on a little side street in Greenwich Village, where foot traffic overtakes the asphalt in summer, and the arched doorways give the block a European feel. The club quickly became an heir apparent to the Village’s old coffeehouses, which were peopled by poets and folk songsters in the 1950s and ’60s. But Vega didn’t remember it as a nostalgic place.

“We felt ourselves to be modern and of the moment,” she said. If you wanted to perform at the Songwriters Exchange, it had to be your own music. “It had to be current stuff,” she added. These have been constants at the club over nearly 42 years: an aura of inheritance and an ethic of freewheeling invention.

“There’s a conduit for fringy jazz, and there’s a conduit for conservo-jazz,” he said. “There’s almost no conduit for people who straddle both worlds, which I’ve always found really problematic.” Asked what other locations might fill the void, he threw out a few names in the other boroughs (Bar Lunático and iBeam in Brooklyn, Terraza 7 in Queens), but acknowledged that none were small clubs dedicated to close listening and communion, in the way of Cornelia Street Café.

Over the course of an hour on Sunday, Halvorson’s paint-splattered distortion and Laubrock’s spare melodies — sometimes coolly linear, sometimes sharply splintered — felt constantly lifted by Rainey’s rambling, buoyant drums. Throughout the narrow basement, where cellphone signals don’t reach and the soft glow of colored Christmas lights filled the room, the audience leaned in close to hear every last note.

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