Brooklyn Poet Loses Cafe Table

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By Joseph Alexiou

At 4 p.m. last Friday, poet and Brooklyn resident Rodrigo Toscano arrived in front of the Greenpoint Coffeehouse to find the doors shuttered and the furniture removed. In the windows several sign read “Coffeehouse Closing” and “last day of business Monday Feb 8, 2010 (lease not renewed).”

“I’ve been coming here for seven years,” said Toscano, shifting a briefcase stuffed with papers, pens and books to another shoulder. About six feet tall with and dark hair and wire-rimmed glasses, Toscano’s work has appeared in Best American Poetry 2004 and his Collapsible Poetics Theater and Other Poetic Concerns won the 2007 National Poetry Series. “My table was in the the left corner, right by the window.” He looked wistfully into the empty space.

The Greenpoint Coffeehouse at closing on its last day. Photo Courtesy of Chris Ruen.
The Greenpoint Coffeehouse at closing on its last day. (Photo courtesy of Chris Ruen.)

Although the table was gone, Toscano remembered how that this area, near the corner of Franklin and Green streets, was desolate and seedy when he moved to Greenpoint in 1999. Since 2003 Greenpoint Coffeehouse was the first sit-down business in this part of the now-gentrified Franklin Street — the other storefronts were boarded up and empty.

“It was the only place you could sit and relax around here,” said Toscano. “Nobody went north of Greenpoint Avenue. There was a lot of drug activity around here.”

After the official closing on February 8, former Coffeehouse staff member Chris Ruen sent an email explaining the closing to various local blogs, including the well known news hub “Greenpointers.”
“One rumor would not die,” his letter reads, “that our lease was denied renewal by the building’s landlord. While we hoped to remain in business until the end of March, it became unadvisable, if not impossible, given the normal difficulties of operation mixed with the added turbulence of unwinding such an establishment. And suddenly, here we are.”

Regulars describe the warm and friendly environment at the coffee shop, and that the waitstaff was often made up of visual and performing artists. Actor Jess Barbagallo, one former staff member, has gotten rave reviews for her appearance in many downtown theater productions and garnered a glowing profile in a September 2009 issue of Time Out New York.

The owners, known only as Clair and Brian, are also co-owners of the Pencil Factory, a nearby pub down that shows no indications of closing. The letter from Ruen, sent on Clair and Brian’s behalf, promises that an official closing party for the Coffeeshop will “hopefully” be planned.

Balancing his heavy load of papers, Toscano shifted his weight and stared intently into the empty space.

“I wrote three books sitting at the table,” he said.

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