Caffe Cino

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Caffe Cino
Address31 Cornelia St
New York City
United States
OperatorJoe Cino
TypeOff-Broadway theatre

Caffe Cino was an Off-Off-Broadway theater founded in 1958 by Joe Cino. The West Village coffeehouse, located at 31 Cornelia Street, was initially imagined as a venue for poetry, folk music, and visual art exhibitions. The plays produced at the Cino, however, became most prominent, and it is now considered the "birthplace of Off-Off-Broadway".[1]

Beginnings and early productions[edit]

Joe Cino was born into an Italian-American family, and moved from Buffalo, New York to be a dancer in New York City. After ten years, he used his $400 in savings and opened the "Caffe Cino Art Gallery".[2] Initially, Cino encouraged his friends to hang their artwork on the walls. That led to poetry readings, which led to staged readings and eventually to productions of plays.[3]

During the early days of the Cino, plays were produced on the floor. A makeshift 8x8-foot stage was later created using milk cartons and carpet remnants. Productions were initially limited to 30 minutes, and the audience could stand anywhere. The space was only 18x30-feet, and audience members often perched atop the cigarette machine.[2] Admission was one dollar, and audience members were offered a coffee and an Italian pastry along with the show.[3]

The fire (1965) and Joe Cino's death (1967)[edit]

On Ash Wednesday of 1965, a fire destroyed the interior of the Cino. The building's structure was not affected. A new lighting system had recently been installed, along with the fireproofing of the Caffe's ceiling, which prevented the fire from spreading to the rest of the tenement building.[4] The official cause of the fire was a gas leak, but some suspected that Cino's lover set the fire. The community raised money by staging benefit performances while the Caffe was closed for renovations.[1] Ellen Stewart, founder of La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, offered Cino and his staff a space to continue Caffe Cino productions on Sunday and Monday nights at her theater.[4]

Joe Cino died three days after an attempted suicide in 1967. Some[who?] suspected that the attempt was due to the death of Cino's lover, John Torrey, and to his drug use.[2][not in citation given]

Notable contributors[edit]

The Caffe Cino was an incubator for first-time directors, playwrights, actors, and lighting or set designers. Many continued to work in stage, screen, or both after the Cino closed. Notable contributors include:


  1. ^ a b Steven McElroy (December 7, 2001). "Portal to Off Off Broadway's Early Days". The New York Times. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  2. ^ a b Dusica Sue Malesevic (December 2, 2015). "'Magic Time' at the Caffe Cino". The Villager (Manhattan). Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  3. ^ a b Tony Ortega (September 10, 2009). "Caffe Cino Goes Up in Smoke". The Village Voice. Retrieved April 9, 2018.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°43′53.23″N 74°0′9.3″E / 40.7314528°N 74.002583°E / 40.7314528; 74.002583