Volume 81, Number 16 | September 15 - 21, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Photo by Lincoln Anderson

A message chalked on the corner of Life Cafe, which closed on Sunday, Sept. 11.

Life is suspended for Life Cafe; Famed eatery closes — for now

By Khiara Ortiz

After 30 years as an integral part of the East Village, Life Cafe has closed until further notice due to a construction dispute between its two landlords.

For a little more than a year now, a protective sidewalk shed and scaffolding have loomed over the restaurant’s outdoor seating area for exterior renovations that still have not begun.

The scaffolding is “not a pleasant place to be sitting under” and it has had an “incredibly detrimental impact on business,” said Kathy Kirkpatrick, one of the original owners of Life Cafe. “You can’t see the business from the street.”

The restaurant, located at the corner of 10th St. and Avenue B, spans a space belonging to two different buildings with two different landlords whose dispute over the price of the work contract has prevented construction from starting.

“Neighbors, regulars and friends can’t believe that the landlords are so insensitive to leave the scaffolding up for so long,” said Kirkpatrick. On two occasions, she received anonymous complaints from pedestrians about the scaffolding obstructing the sidewalk.

Councilmember Rosie Mendez, an East Village neighbor and Life Cafe regular, hung out at the cafe with its usual crowd on Sun., Sept. 11, for one last time before its closing.

“We were on Life Cafe alert because we heard the rumor it would close on Sunday,” Mendez said. “It was an extension of my life, a place where I bumped into friends.” For her, the biggest loss will be Life’s delicious vegetarian chili.

The coupling of the cafe’s closing with the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks made Sunday a “doubly somber day” for Kirkpatrick. She remembered the swarms of people who found comfort in gathering at Life the day after the attacks in 2001.

“People were so grateful to us for being there,” said Kirkpatrick.

Life was always a communal home base for the struggling artists of the Lower East Side. It offered a familiar and safe place for New Yorkers to meet and enjoy poetry readings, music and art performances, comedy and theater.

Life gained fame from being the place where Jonathan Larson wrote his Pulitzer Prize-winning “RENT.” The Cafe was frequented by fans of the musical, who came to see where Larson spent time crafting it, drinking coffee and observing the dynamics of the Village.

Now, with the new Off Broadway production of “RENT,” the traditional pilgrimage will no longer be possible. However, Kirkpatrick hopes to accommodate visitors at Life’s sister location in Brooklyn.

“I don’t want to close, I want to continue on,” Kirkpatrick said. “The landlords need to come to an agreement. I’m caught in the middle.”

The building’s two landlords are Bob Perl and Abraham Noy. Perl said that, due to the situation, he was reluctant to explain all the details in the press.

“We’re in the process of trying to work this out,” he said. “Life Cafe is an iconic and great restaurant, and I’d love to see it be a part of the East Village for the next 30 years.”

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