Life Cafe Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Life Stories’


August 4, 2014

This is a very special event and a limited time offer — I’m selling all the original collaged table tops from the East Village Life Cafe. Wouldn’t you love to have one?

Horned Man - Table 4 at Bench next to 10th Street Window

Horned Man – Table 4 at Bench next to 10th Street Window

Oh the memories . . . .

Cars around Coffee Cup

Cars around Coffee Cup

If you don’t get one, they might just go to Museum of the City of New York instead. This is your chance.

Raquel Welsh Table

Raquel Welsh Table

I’ll be in the Bushwick area early September. The tables will be available for about a week while I’m there. Email me at and let me know which one you want and to make arrangements.

Music Scores

Music Scores

Each is unique. They would make  wonderful table tops; they would make better wall art.

Baby Face

Baby Face

Most if not all of  the tables are shown here. There are about twenty of them; 17 measure about 30″ x 30″ and 3 measure about 24″ x 24″. The stands are not included.

Space Model

Space Model

Come to think of it, I believe there are only two 24″ tables — I donated one to Adelphi University. It’s on display in the lobby of the  AU PAC (Adelphi University Performing Arts Center) along with the Jonathan Larson Bench and a collaged wall panel from Life Cafe as well as a stage panel from the original stage production of RENT at the Nederlander Theater that I also donated.

Baby Toot Table

Baby Toot Table

I’m selling them for a little more than I paid the artists to make them. They used actual pages from vintage Life Magazines from the 40s, 50s and 60s. The large tops are $125 and the small $100 and include the dried up bubble gum on the bottoms, a real piece of New York City history.That’s a bargain and your luck as I must sell them quickly.

Baseball Table

Baseball Table

They were produced around 1996/1997 by two artists. One was David Chambard, a French painter, who I met in his studio/home in the Woodstock area. Last I heard he’s living and selling his art in Paris. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the second artist’s name. If you remember him, please let me know. He also had one or two art shows at Life Cafe.

Cover, How Life Began, a Memoir

Cover, How Life Began, a Memoir

Did you meet your significant other at Life Cafe? Maybe this was the table at which you sat when your life changed for the better.



These are the tables of legend, the ones upon which Jonathan Larson envisaged his cast of East Village characters dancing while singing La Vie Boheme. 

Marlboro Man

Marlboro Man

These are the tables actually danced upon in real life by hordes of RENT fans from around the world at special RENT events at Life Cafe.

Soaring through Life

Soaring through Life

I met 4 lead members from the Japanese cast of RENT at these  tables when they came to see a Broadway performance.

Funny Man Face

Funny Man Face

During a second visit by the entire Japanese cast, all 20+ of them sang La Vie Boheme in English, then again in Japanese to the astonishment and delight of all our customers during a busy brunch.

Satellite Dishes

Satellite Dishes

That was a tear jerking, stunning moment for me. Oh, the memories.

Hallway with Door

Hallway with Door

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

More Politicians

More Politicians

Think about it.

Wheat Field

Wheat Field

But not for too long.

Woman Monkey

Woman Monkey

You can also leave me a comment below. But it’s better to email me at



So many lives passed across these tables at Life Cafe.



Lovers, poets, the lonely, dreamers, thinkers, actors with and without parts to play.



The coffees, the beers, the losers and the leaders. All lives at Life passed across here.

If tables could talk, imagine what you could hear. Imagine what conversations you might have.

I’ll be in Bushwick the first week of September. Email me your interest at and I’ll respond immediately. If you’re not in New York City and need a table top shipped, I’ll attempt to make those arrangements and there will be additional handling and shipping costs.


Kathy Life





Nederlander Organization Donated RENT Panel to Life Cafe


Hello All.

This is a follow up of the last blog post about the J. Larson Bench moving to Adelphi University . And it’s a story about how small a world it is….

My friend Ann Sachs provided me with the real information about the Nederlander Theatre, and also informed me that it was the Nederlander Organization that donated the RENT stage panel to Life Café. The Nederlander Organization is the client of her company, Sachs Morgan Studio Inc,  who provides comprehensive theatre design and planning services to the performing arts community nationwide. It’s a small world — Ann was the facilitator of my professional women’s group, The Woman Presidents’ Organization and she was fantastic!

The panel from the stage set of RENT at the Nederlander Theatre, donated to Life Cafe by the Nederlander Organization. Here it’s installed in the “Secret Garden” in the back of Life Cafe.

The view of the audience from the stage of RENT at Nederlander Theatre just before demolition, September, 2008

The following is a blurb about the history of the theatre, and here are photos for the theatre. Photo credit: copyright Samuel Morgan Photography.

[Interesting note about a very small world indeed: Sam told me that the Nederlander was a fantastic and fascinating project to work on. He also told me that as a Bushwick Brooklyn resident starting in 2004, he was a frequent patron of Life Café 983 in Bushwick, Brooklyn on Flushing Avenue and loved that it was an option long before there were other places like it in the neighborhood. Neither of us recalls that we ever met.  Amazing connection!]


The David T. Nederlander Theatre (1,232-seats) is one of The Nederlander Organization’s nine Broadway theatres. The legacy of the theatre began with David Tobias Nederlander, for whom the theatre is named.  It has had a long and distinguished history.

Built by Walter C. Jordan in 1921, the theatre was originally named the National Theatre; it was renamed the Billy Rose in 1959, when the famed producer/songwriter bought it; christened the Trafalgar in 1979 when it was bought by James and Joseph Nederlander and the British firm of Cooney-Marsh; and renamed The David T. Nederlander in 1980 in honor of the man whose sons now operate the Nederlander Organization.

Stage of RENT from seats just before demolition after closing September 2008


The musical RENT to the theatre in 1996. Set in the Alphabet City neighborhood of Manhattan’s East Village, the RENT production occasioned the remodeling of the façade and interior of the theatre to resemble a downtown nightclub. Following the closing of RENT in 2008, after a 12-year run of 5,124 performances, the theatre received a comprehensive renovation.

The Nederlander now houses the new Broadway hit NEWSIES.

Props being taken down from the stage of RENT at Nederlander Theatre after RENT closed September 2008










A stage hand loads props taken from the stage set of RENT at the Nederlander Theatre after RENT closed September 2008

The Nederlander Theatre after restoration after RENT closed. This photo was taken January 29, 2010.

This Month’s Artist @ Life Cafe 983

Leslie Van Stelten Biography

Originally hailing from Denver,Colorado, Leslie Van Stelten is one of those transplants to the Big Apple who has rooted herself into the cracked pavements and graffiti-covered buildings of Brooklyn like a glorious weed that can’t help but grow and flourish in such a steely environment.

She’s a photographer and photo illustrator of exceptional talents whose work appears regularly on CD packages for bands and musicians, in local publications such as The Village Voice and Go Magazine, and prestigious design and publicity projects.  But her heart and soul explode into action when capturing the denizens of the NYC underground scene like no one else – from the unique subjects to the stunning lighting to the exaggerated reality she portrays, Leslie’s work evokes a visceral feeling in the viewer that’s hard to shake and impossible to forget.

She has exhibited her striking work in galleries all over New York Cityand is pleased to be presenting at Sugarland.  For a look at more of Leslie’s work, please go to




Jonathan Larson Bench-East Village

By John Sunderland


Regulars to Life Café Bushwick may notice that there’s an elephant in the room, in the shape, well not of an actual elephant, but a large, wooden well-worn pew.  On it is an inscribed brass plate, which reads, “The Jonathan Larson Bench”.


So what’s the point of mentioning this, after all, we don’t write about bar stools, though several are still warm with amazing stories. No, we mention the arrival of the bench from our original East Village Café because we’re closed there at the moment. The building has to have remedial structural work done and whatever it is they will do and whenever they do it, we want the bench to be safe from harm.


Jonathan Larson Bench

Kath’s first husband, David, brought the bench from their hometown in Michigan to the original café in the East Village in 1982. It sat there in the exact same place until yesterday, October 26, 2011, during which time it was host to God knows how many geniuses and dreamers, lovers and dribblers. Then, awakened from it’s cozy rest, it was jumped on, pulled outside and U-Hauled over the Willy B Bridge and into the sweating, straining arms of our unfortunate staff who, man and woman, handled it into the café, much to the surprise of the customers, who were temporarily moved and piled into a corner, whilst the bench was placed in its new home.


Jonathan Larson's Bench in its new home

So, why the effort? Because the bench to many people is a quasi-sacred object. It was where Jonathan Larson, creator of the Broadway musical hit RENT, sat with his friends whilst crafting the show.


Life Café in the East Village was at the epicenter of the world that he describes in RENT and duly gets its place immortalized in the production as the café where the

characters meet and perform the showstopper, “La Vie Boehme”.


So that’s the story.  Sit on it, move your bum back and forth; there’s just a chance the bench sparks genius!



May 20, 2011

It’s time, well, past time, to shake the tree of Life. And so we have, as you’ll notice.

We’ve lived with scaffolding surrounding the building that houses Life Café for too many months. Our landlords continue to work out their issues over renovations to the buildings leaving us stuck in the middle of their wrangling.

So to give our old tree a shake, I’ve brought in my good friend Darin Rubell, founder of Mercadito and owner of Gallery Bar and Ella in the Lower East Side. Darin’s brief is to re-vitalize Life Café. He loves the East Village and Life Cafe and sees the Cafe’s 30-year history as an essential part of the fabric of the area. His mission is to bring new life to the old girl! And he’s passionate to see this happen. To that end he’s brought in Chef Consultant Paul Yellin to breathe new life and taste into our menu, creating new twists on old favorites and introducing some exciting new ones. The new menu with its fresh graphic styling makes it easier to choose a menu item and it’s much more easy to handle.

First Readers of Redesigned Life Cafe Menu

It’s still the old Life, but when you come in you’ll feel the buzz and excitement from the staff and the customers alike over what’s going on. You’ll notice the improvements right away when you step through the door. This week saw a fresh coat of paint and a new look: a soft creamy white ceiling with soft grey accents brighten up the room. Out have gone our vintage TV’s and in have come flowers and a more open feel. Our cozy corner is still cozy but without the one-eyed monster looking down on you. A second black chalkboard wall helps announce our new specials. John Sunderland’s off-the-wall artwork of his menu-based picture riddles remain in house to continue our policy of connection with the arts and to spur lively conversation among customers.

Fresh Look for Life Cafe for Spring 2011

Outside in back our freshly planted secret garden became a lush tropical jungle this week with all the rain, whilst out front our new bistro style sidewalk café brings a surprisingly European flavor to the corner of 10th and B.

Spring Bursts open in Life Cafe's Garden

We hope you will enjoy the new life we are breathing into the old, just in time for the next thirty years! Tune in tomorrow for “Who’s that Yellin’ in the Kitchen?” where we’ll give you a look into the exciting flavors Chef Paul Yellin has created for us.

ME and my BUNS: How do You Like Yours?

Retro Burger(and a chance to win below!!)

by John Sunderland ©
Illustration “Retro Burger” is a classic drawing from John’s weekly Riddle Raffle at Life 983

I order a Life Café Burger about once a week. To me as an older Yorkshireman from England, the American Burger is an international icon and the Life Café version is an excellent example.

The nearest thing we came to real burgers in the early sixties in England was watching Wimpy, the ever-famished character on the Popeye cartoons who suffered from perpetual burger lust, suck down another one, promising to re-pay the money he’d just hustled by Tuesday or Thursday. We kids, of course, knew he really meant never. Wimpy could eat his own weight in burgers during the course of a cartoon and always got away Scott free.

“Wimpy” was also the name of a burger cafe in our northern town. A visit was something of a treat. It wasn’t overly styled as an American version, though they did do milkshakes and Coke and called chips “fries.” And they had revolving pedestal seats just like in the films. In fact, apart from cartoons, as a kid I had no real idea that the “Burger” was an American institution destined to take over the world!

The best thing about Wimpy’s though wasn’t their burgers; it was their bright colored ketchup and mustard dispensers which sat plump and heavy on the yellow Formica tables. It was risky but if you were clever, you could squeeze the ketchup bottle hard enough to make it blow little red bubbles (ketchup farts really); but get it wrong and you could erupt ketchup all over your mum’s new coat

Why I’m writing this is because as I sat at the bar of Life Café 983 last night I was mesmerized by a chap next to me by the name of Brent Herrig. He’d ordered the Life Burger and was very seriously and studiously, almost scientifically, applying a thick coating of ketchup to the under-side of the top half of the bun. Then carefully and skillfully as he held the bun in mid air he moved it in a rotational way watching closely as the thick red wave moved around glutinously within its circumference. I’d never seen anyone do that before; seems Brent had a personal thing going on, his little ritual before munching it down. I asked him how the burger was and he said the Life Café Bushwick burgers (he hasn’t been to the East Village yet) was in his top three best burgers for New York.

All you could do with a Wimpy’s burger in 1962 was see how far you could get the melted cheese to stretch in thin rubbery threads as you held the top of the bun aloft, like some hovering UFO. I could get it to stretch about a foot before the cheese cooled and went solid.

Now that I’m older and more aesthetically sensitive, I sit at the bar and see just how tall and elegant I can make my burger by piling up everything (except fries) onto the meat patty with the bun on top. I imagine it’s a design for a new building, or the leaning tower of tomato and onions. Then I sit back and marvel at my unique creation, just before it falls over.



How do you like to dress your Life Burger? Share your version in our Comments Section on the Life Café 983 Facebook Fan page for a chance to WIN YOUR BURGER, compliments of the house.

Your burger will then be featured on our specials menu with YOUR NAME attached!

Not a Facebook fan yet? Click the Badge below!

Become a Fan!

One Winner will be selected from the Facebook Fan page on November 1st, 2009. No Purchase necessary, yada yada yada!

And check out our friend Brent’s amazing photography at


Veggie Chili was the first hot item I served at Life Café in 1981. Warming, filling, loved by everyone, chili epitomized what people were looking for. Oh, and it was cheap.

To get the Cafe opened quickly I scrounged the neighborhood for snacks, the kinds of munchies loose change would buy. Dennis, a college buddy of David Life’s, arrived from Michigan about that time for a visit, curious and excited over our latest adventure, a real café in New York City.

One day Dennis and I talked about a menu. He jumped up exclaiming, “You must serve CHILI!” I was swept up by his enthusiasm and followed him into my kitchen.

“Start with cans of beans. You got fresh tomatoes? Onions? First sauté up some onions. And lots of garlic. Green pepper is good. You got celery? We can put some of that in. Where are your spices?

“Oh, Dennis, that’s too much cayenne!

“Oh, yeah. Ha, ha! I love it. Let’s throw in some black pepper too. Hot. It’s gotta be hot, hot, hot!

I didn’t serve his recipe but he convinced me about chili! I came up with my own recipe after researching the trusty old vegetarian cookbooks that had traveled with me cross-country. Dave and I were vegetarians since living in Michigan. I enjoyed discovering non-meat alternatives and experimenting with unusual ingredients. At Life Cafe, it was natural for me to serve food Dave and I liked and believed in eating. It was a challenge though to come up with menu ideas to appeal to a wider palate and to find ingredients that weren’t as readily available then as they are today.

But I had a mission. The health and fiscal advantages of vegetarianism were apparent. And I believed that by offering it on our menu showed we cared.

I charged fifty cents for Life’s Three-Bean Vegetarian Chili so our cash strapped artist and non-artist neighbors could enjoy a hot meal. I made sure that my chili was nutritious in case it happened to be the only meal someone ate that day. If a customer had an extra buck and wanted to splurge, the chili was available with brown rice and freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese for a bigger protein boost. This simple dish replenished one’s spirit with a near-to-complete protein meal.

Because it was the first item on Life Cafe’s menu and quickly became its backbone, Life’s Vegetarian Chili holds a special place on the menu for me. It’s a symbol of the ideals that Life Cafe was built upon, and serves as a reminder of where I started. It’s a symbol of what Life Cafe is about.

Life Cafe

Yes, we all have had a lot of ups and downs recently in the world, but Life goes on. We elected a new President and started down a path of change. Speaking of change, we’ve got a lot of fresh new things happening at the East Village Life Café that compliments nicely with Barack Obama’s message of hope. Our sister location, Life Café NINE83 in Bushwick, Brooklyn, is tweaking things up too.

Welcome to the first post of the Life Café Blog! I’ve been planning to launch our own blog for weeks, and I’m really excited to use this medium as another way to connect with you. This post concentrates mostly on the East Village café as there’s so much to update. We’ll keep you posted on what goes on the Bushwick here as well.

My life’s been entwined in Life Café for 28 years (as of this month actually!). My goal has been to provide an open door, a haven for all who walk in. It’s always been more than just a business; Life Café has been a way of life for me, even if it’s tougher than most. Life Café is more than great food; it’s about people connecting to people.

In future blogs we plan to share the funny, amazing or just plain interesting stories that abound at Life Café from the past, present & possible future. We’ll also post the weekly specials for both the E. Village and the Brooklyn cafes and anything else newsworthy. For this one, though, I just got to tell you what’s new in the East Village first because I’m really energized about it.

We have a new chef, new & improved menu items, a new mangeress (as John, my Yorkshire, England, husband would call her), an ever–changing beer and wine menu, an expanded “Rescue Breakfast/Lunch Deal” and a slew of events planned for the coming months. We’re doing a special brunch in the East Village on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday. So let’s get started.

Our new chef is Vincent Viseclia who’s a pastry chef too, so we’re looking forward to some great baking. For brunch, he’s already introduced scones (espresso-chocolate and berry vanilla), muffins (Blue Heaven and carrot) and a new cornbread recipe. Scone and Muffin flavors will change weekly. His cornbread is light and moist. I couldn’t believe my first bite; it reminded me of the wonderful cake my Lithuanian grandmother used to bake for us kids back in Detroit in the 50s and while we all pine for it, no one in the family knew her recipe! Imagine my delight. Funny thing, Vincent reminded me he used to make muffins for Life Café back in the 80s. Come to brunch and you’ll have a basket of these baked wonders on the table just waiting for you to bite into. Also new to brunch is his light and tender Belgian Waffles served with fresh berries and assorted fruits with maple butter. Also new to brunch (as well as for breakfast during the week) is his light and fluffy pancakes and his French Kiss, French toast made with Brioche and his special batter topped with bananas poached in rum served with pastry cream. The staff raves about them so you know they have to be good. Crepes are coming soon!

He has a new source for our ground beef and turkey for our burgers that are moist and juicy and surpasses most others. These cost us a little more, but he assures me you’ll love them so much I won’t be sorry because you’ll keep coming back for more.

Thanksgiving at the East Village café will be especially delicious. We’re serving brunch Thanksgiving Day on Thursday, November 27th from 10am to 5:30 pm (last seating). We close at 7 pm. A special brunch menu includes a delicious turkey dinner platter made with Murray’s organic free-range turkey and a Vegan platter. We’ll also have something a little different on the regular brunch menu available. On Black Friday, November 28th we’ll serve the same brunch menu from 10 am till 4:30 pm. We’ll have the details in the next blog.

Bushwick Life Café will be closed Thanksgiving Day but will be opened on Black Friday at 11 am as usual and serving up brunch until 4:30 pm.

If your change purse is a little low, when you come in Monday through Friday between 10 am and 4 pm (for a limited time) you’ll find our “Rescue Breakfast/Lunch Deal“. Get two eggs, oven-roasted potatoes, toast or cornbread and coffee or tea OR buttermilk pancakes and coffee or tea for $4.25. We also run a lunch special for $5.95, a combo that includes a tasty soup of the day and a special half sandwich which have been selling very well. Hey, whatever we can do to help out until the “bailout” kicks in (let’s hope that it won’t be as long as some predict). We don’t expect to save the world, but we’ll save you some breakfast.

Andy Mills, the Beverage and Bar Manager at NINE83 treks all the way from Bushwick Life Café and helps us out in the East Village. He rotates beers regularly. Newest on tap is Six Point Brownstone. We also have Blue Moon Belgian White, Magic Hat #9 along with favorites Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Stella Artois, Guinness and Brooklyn Lager. A couple of new bottled beers Andy’s brought in are Sam Adams Octoberfest, Hoptical Illusion Ale and Victory Prima Pilsner.

I love staying local with the Brooklyn Brewery microbrew brand. They were the first beers I brought in to Life Café when we got our first license to sell alcohol, a beer and wine license. Back in Lansing, Michigan, I used to make my own beer and wine and I was really tempted to brew beer on 10th St. and Ave. B. While the 80s East Village was a no-man’s (and no-wo-man’s) land, I figured I’d better not create any more problems than we already had in the neighborhood by selling a home brew. There must have been a law against it. Oh, well.

The red wines Andy’s brought in recently have been well received. Particularly popular are the full-bodied Francis Ford Coppola Shiraz that sings of California sunshine for a chilly fall afternoon. The Wyatt Cabernet Sauvignon has a distinctive flavor of cinnamon and raisins, very nice for this time of year.

That reminds me; we’ve brewed up some tasty hot mulled cider — you’ll get a whiff of the mulling spices when you walk in the door…so good.

Rebecca Hailey’s been bartending for us for two months and became a manager at the end of October. She’s “a smile on legs” as my husband says and she will indeed make you smile because she’s just like that. Originally from New Jersey, she comes to us via Philadelphia. She’s brought some of that Philly factor with her. She’s got Quizzo going on Thursday nights at 9 pm, a Philly import that started in 1996, that’s about to take over in New York City like it’s done in LA. Quizzo happens on Tuesday nights starting November 18th too. A photography exhibit by Carrie Miller is being installed. Stop in to see her show and meet her at her opening party on Monday, December 1st at 8:30 pm. RENT closed on Broadway on September 7th and our tribute wall to Jonathan Larson will remain. It’s above the Jonathan Larson Bench that we dedicated on September 5th at the incredible RENT Finale B Video contest party before the 50 passionate and wonderful RENThead video contest winners.

Come in for the charming Chas DePaulo on Wednesday, November 12th at 9 pm for some darn good musical entertainment. He’s a member of the famous Irish band The Groundhogs and is an international session musician. For the winter Rebecca’s also working on putting together a writers’ series and improv comedy. If you’re a writer and are interested, get in touch with Rebecca at get in touch with Rebecca at

Don’t forget to stop by and see John’s weekly edition of his popular Riddle Raffle pastel drawing of the week. Guess what it represents (the clue is in one of the menus). Winners receive a bottle of champagne!

Tune in next time. And remember, Life’s worth loving. Enjoy at least one thing in Life everyday and you won’t go astray. Let us know what it was. Stay tuned to find out how.