Ever wanted a New Yorker’s opinion on something? Where to go? How to avoid everyone? Where to find hidden spots? This week in the New York on My Mind interview series, My New York, founder and co-owner of the Cornelia Street Café, Robin Hirsch, invites us for dinner and a show at his long-standing bohemian Greenwich Village café.
Are you a native New Yorker?
No, I was born in London during the Blitz to German Jews who had fled Hitler — just in time to be bombed by their erstwhile countrymen. I came to the US as a Fulbright and English-Speaking Union Scholar to write about avant-garde American theatre. I thought I’d be here for two years, getting my PhD, but after being shipped to Penn State where there wasn’t the tiniest hint of avant-garde theatre, I came to New York where I ended up marrying an actress, starting my own theatre company then eventually the Cornelia Street Café. That’s the abridged version!
Which neighbourhood do you live in and why?
Park Slope, Brooklyn. I enjoy the diversity. When I moved there 30 years ago, a writer friend described it fairly accurately as how the Village was 30 years before that. Home of the greatest concentration of writers and lesbians.
Favourite time of year in the city?
Spring and fall — having recently just lived through two hideous months of winter ice and snow, which then slowly transmogrified into slush, spring beckons only to be burnt to a crisp in the summer, which eventually gratifyingly gives way to Fall (autumn in your country).
Best brunch spot?
Come on! The Cornelia Street Café, obviously.
Walk down virtually any street and keep your eyes open. The streets of New York are filled with things to discover on every corner.
I don’t do too much of this to be honest, but I would definitely recommend taking a look inside Nadeau, which imports a huge variety of intriguing furniture from Asia.
Building you’d most love to live in?
Other than the gorgeous brownstone I have lived in for 30 years? Possibly 29 Cornelia Street, for obvious reasons!
City’s most overlooked site?
No such things… everything has been discovered. Although if you haven’t been to the Cornelia Street Café, you’re missing out.
Best place for people watching?
Sidewalk table at the Cornelia Street Café.
What would you do as Mayor?
Legalise all immigrants and make Wall Street pay for universal health care.
How would you spend a spare afternoon?
I would amble down Cornelia Street hoping for an outside table!
Funniest thing that’s happened to you in the city?
Meryl Streep ordering Pinot Grigio in our downstairs performance space — we serve 35 wines by the glass of which Pinot Grigio would come in at 36. Two weeks ago she did the same thing, we had a little chat, and I substituted Sancerre.
Best thing a taxi driver has said to you?
“I need to go home now because I can’t drive in the snow.”
What inspires you about New York City?
Diversity, creativity, improvisation.
Craziest thing about living in the City?
That there are still people who have not been to the Cornelia Street Café!
A word of advice for tourists…
Three words obviously: Cornelia Street Café — 35 wines by the glass, 700 shows a year, from poetry in 12 languages to music in as many genres, from performance (Eve Ensler started the Vagina Monologues here) to cabaret (members of Monty Python and the Royal Shakespeare Company have been known to perform informally), from science (more Nobel Laureates per square foot on Science Sunday than anywhere outside Stockholm) to stiltwalking (largely confined to the street). Also bloody good award-winning food.
Thanks for talking to me, Robin.
Find the Cornelia Street Cafe at 29 Cornelia Street.