On Thursday, a $24.1 million renovation project symbolically broke ground at the historic Nuyorican Poets Cafe on Manhttan’s Lower East Side. Led by the NYC Department of Design and Construction for NYC Cultural Affairs, the project will bring much-needed repairs, create new performance, rehearsal, and teaching spaces, and make the venue ADA-accessible.

Nuyorican Poets Cafe on Lower East Side
Nuyorican Poets Cafe before the renovation, Courtesy of NYCDDC and NYC Cultural Affairs

The roots of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe were planted in 1973 when Puerto Rican poet and professor Miguel Algarían began hosting literary salons in his Lower East Side apartment. Participants included a diverse array of playwrights, poets, and musicians of color. In 1981, the group purchased a nearly century-old tenement building at 236 East 3rd. La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club occupied the space before the cafe bought it. Over the past fifty years, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe has hosted countless poetry slams, open mics, Latin & Contemporary Jazz and Hip Hop concerts, theatrical performances, educational programs, and visual art exhibits. The Cafe closed for “Nuyoricanstruction” just after celebrating its 50th anniversary in the fall of 2023.

Nuyorican Poets Cafe on Lower East Side
Rendering of renovated ground floor bar for the Nuyorican Poets Cafe project, Courtesy of NYCDDC and NYC Cultural Affairs

Rice+Lipka Architects created the designs for the renovation. Once complete, the first floor will have a new main lobby, performance space, and bar. A “flex” space which can be used for rehearsals or as a classroom will be created on the second floor. An additional performance space will be added on the fourth floor along with new office spaces throughout the building for the staff. A new elevator will allow for ease of travel between the different levels.

Two site-specific works were commissioned for this project by the artist Cecilia Biagini. These works were made possible by the NYC Percent for Art program. The current mural on the exterior of the building which depicts Pedro Pietri, one of the co-founders of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, appears to be incorporated into the new designs based on renderings.

Nuyorican Poets Cafe on Lower East Side

The building will also receive necessary repairs such as a new roof, waterproofing, and updated plumbing, HVAC, and electrical systems. A ramp from the sidewalk to the entrance will allow for better accessibility. Construction is expected to be completed in spring 2026. While the Cafe is closed, programming will continue to take place at other venues across New York City.

Next, check out 10 Secrets of the Lower East Side