REAL ESTATE

$24M revamp of Lower East Side’s Nuyorican Poets Café is underway

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Renderings courtesy of the NYC DCLA

The Nuyorican Poets Café, a beloved performance space on the Lower East Side for half a century, is undergoing a $24.1 million transformation. The city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and the Department of Design and Construction on Thursday kicked off the project, which will renovate and expand the cultural institution’s lobby, add new performance spaces and offices, improve accessibility, and perform extensive repairs on the building’s exterior. Designed by Rice+Lipka Architects, the reconstruction project is slated for completion in spring 2026.

Rendering depicts the new, larger main performance space.

Founded in 1973, the Nuyorican Poets Café has been a hotspot for world-class poetry, theater, music, and visual arts, and has regularly showcased poetry slams, open mics, Latin & Contemporary Jazz and Hip-Hop concerts, theatrical performances, educational programs, and much more.

The institution’s 120-year-old tenement building, located at 236 East 3rd Street, is in urgent need of repairs. The building has a leaky roof and faulty electrical systems that could blow the whole power grid by just plugging in a heater, Caridad De La Luz, executive director of the Café, told Pix 11.

The cafe announced in October it would shut down for three years during a renovation, as reported by The City. During the closure, performances will be held at other venues across the city.

“The Nuyorican Poet’s Café reached its 50th anniversary in 2023 and what better way to usher in the next 50 years than with a complete transformation of the 100-year-old tenement building it calls home,” De La Luz said. 

“This incredible renovation will help elevate the vast artistic community the NPC intentionally serves with two theaters, dressing rooms, a flex space, a garden area, an elevator and more. Once complete, this will not only be an historic performance venue, but a cultural institution.”

Rendering of renovated ground floor bar.

The project includes the renovation and expansion of the main lobby and first-floor performance space, and addition of new performance space on the fourth floor and flex space on the second floor.

As part of the renovation, a new elevator will be installed in the four-story building, improving accessibility for staff and visitors.

Comprehensive work on the building’s exterior will also be done, including a new roof, envelope rehabilitation and waterproofing, a new ADA-accessible ramp from the sidewalk level into the Café, new fire exit stairs, and renovations to the plumbing, HVAC, and electrical systems.

Under the city’s Percent for Art program, there will be two site-specific artworks by artist Cecilia Biagini.

“For over five decades, Nuyorican Poets Café has served as a dynamic performance space and home for nurturing and showcasing the talents of rising poets, actors, filmmakers, and musicians from diverse backgrounds,” Laurie Cumbo, DCLA Commissioner, said.

“Nuyorican Poets Café’s renovation will propel them into a new era, ensuring their stage can serve as a platform for artists and audiences for generations to come. More than just bricks and mortar, this project represents a commitment to preserving the legacy of the Puerto Rican diaspora and African-American culture while strengthening the community bonds of the vibrant Lower East Side neighborhood.”

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