Life Cafe: Life Story > Bios

Kathy “Life” Kirkpatrick

Life Cafe Owner Kathy "Life" Kirkpatrick

Kathy Kirkpatrick was the co-founder and owner of Life Café, the landmark
East Village eatery, which was in operation from 1981 until 2011. (The Café
was forced to close over issues involving a dispute between the landlords
over the cost of urgently needed structural repairs.) Life Cafe was featured in
the Pulitzer Prize winning Broadway musical and movie RENT by Jonathan
Larson. Larson was known to frequent Life Café while researching and
writing the musical. Life Cafe was a full-service restaurant/bar open seven
days a week serving American comfort food with vegetarian and vegan


Life Café hosted many patrons of rock and roll and movie fame.

In 2002 Kathy pioneered another artist neighborhood in Bushwick, Brooklyn,
by opening a 42-seat café/bar called Life Cafe 983, anchoring another
community of artists and musicians.

Kathleen and her former husband, David Life, started Life Café in 1981 by
accident in the front section of a dilapidated storefront they fixed up to live in
and work out of. On the surface, the location of the café could not have been
worse as the Lower East Side was regarded as a dangerous inner city war-
zone at the time ruled over by drug-dealers and a no-go area for the NYPD.

However, the burnt out vacant buildings were a magnet for squatters and
artists and the Café quickly became an artistic center in the neighborhood,
hosting poetry readings, performance art, visual art shows and musical
performances in the midst of the culturally explosive 1980s East Village rock
and roll art scene.

Kathy took over sole ownership in 1985 and persevered through the ups
and downs of the neighborhood’s social throes and the City’s economic woes
while maintaining the unique quintessential East Village homespun style.
The distinctive friendly atmosphere and social intermingling among staff and
visitors alike reminiscent of the original days sets her eateries apart from all

Kathy secured the registered trademark for Life Café and managed both
locations. Her second husband, John Sunderland from North Yorkshire,
England, an artist, writer and ground breaking international museum
designer from North Yorkshire, England joined her in 2004. In 1987 Kathy
became a founding president of BEVA (Businesses in the East Village
Association) until 1991 helping local businesses get New York City officials

to address the conditions enabling shop lifting, drug dealing and using,
homelessness and garbage strewn streets that plagued the East village and
threatened their livelihoods. From 2001 until 2010 Kathy was a member of
the New York Chapter IV of the WPO (Women Presidents’ Organization), an
international peer support group for professional businesswomen.

Kathy and Life Café have appeared in magazines and newspapers in the
U.S. and internationally since the 1980s including New York Magazine,
Newsweek, Wall Street Journal, and Life Magazine. She’s done radio
interviews (WBAI and Tokyo Radio FM in 2006) and has presented talks at
Mercer College and Life Café to groups of 6 to over 75. She’s been featured
on, and as well as on Kathy writes for the Life Café website

Kathy is completing a memoir called How Life Began: the Search for Love
and Huevos Rancheros at Life Café, New York City. The book, a combination
of memoir, recipes and scrapbook of images from the 1980s East Village art
scene, answers the question most asked of her by captivated newcomers to
Life Cafe; “How’d this place get started anyway?”

Kathleen believes in providing an oasis in communities where her restaurants
serve up not only good affordable food and drink but offer guests a relaxed
and easy connection to others. She views her restaurants as catalysts in
effecting positive change for individuals while assisting neighborhoods
to rebound and thrive. Her mottos are “There’s Something for Everyone,”
“Everyone welcome,” and “Good company guaranteed”.

Kathy was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1950 and holds a Bachelors Degree in
Social Science from Michigan State University.

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