A Beatle’s Haunt, Cafe La Fortuna, to Close Its Doors

 I am thoroughly bummed by this news.  It seems a Beatle (Lennon) landmark is closing its doors in the near future.  I am so bummed.  I was planning on visiting N.Y. in the fall.  I had visions of taking my obligatory photos of the Dakota, and then spend a good part of the afternoon in Cafe La Fortuna, John’s personal haunt.

I had visions of happening to see Yoko in the back courtyard, and listening intently as she told me stories of yesteryear as we sipped on italian soda and espressos. I munch on a tiramisu while Yoko sticks to her coffee and cigarettes.  It would have been a Lennon fan’s dream.  Now it looks like that dream may be less than a dream.  A visit, itself, fantasies aside, may not happen at all.  Such a shame.

 Cafe Fortuna

Here’s what we’ve read.

Two deaths brought about the decision to close Cafe La Fortuna, the three-decade-old cafe that attracted John Lennon, Yoko Ono and many other Upper West Side neighborhood residents with its outdoor garden, opera music and Italian desserts.

The first death, which took place a few years ago, was of the longtime landlord, who had generously kept the rent for the space at 69 West 71st Street at a reasonable rate despite the escalating real estate costs in the neighborhood.

The other took place in January. It was the death of Alice Urwand, half of the husband-and-wife team that had founded and owned the cafe. Her husband, Vincent Urwand, posted a large sign in the cafe window today announcing the closing of the cafe saying, “With her a piece of me died.”

With the death of the landlord, the building was sold to new management, which informed the owners that the rent was going to jump to two and a half times what they were currently paying, according to Michael Trapani, a family friend who is also now one of the owners of the cafe.  “He just made it clear that the rate was going to be X amount of dollars,” Mr. Trapani said. “To survive we would have had to charge $10 for a cup of coffee.”

The new rent touched off an internal debate, and swirling rumors of the demise of the institution. The owners prayed at the local Roman Catholic Church that they would be able to keep it open. But then came the death of Ms. Urwand, who was considered the “heart and soul” of the institution. (The cafe is named for her mother.) “The death of Alice that kind of convinced us that it was over,” Mr. Trapani said.

The cafe, which was founded in 1976, will close after Sunday – three days’ notice.
Shellshocked neighbors stared at the poster in the window today, lamenting the loss of a relic of the old Upper West Side that existed before the gentle waves of gentrification climbed north along the borders of Central Park, leaving Banana Republics, soul-less condominium buildings, and socioeconomic homogeneity in their wake. “I have nothing against Starbucks,” said Marie Wallace, a neighborhood resident who was standing outside the case staring at the poster. “I like Starbucks. I have a card there, but you go in and out and no one knows you.”

Ms. Wallace, an actress, has been living in the neighborhood for 40 years and going to the cafe for 30 years. “In the ’60s and early ’70s there were like no restaurants,” she said. “There were antique shops, cleaners and mom-and-pop shops where you passed and said ‘Hello!’ Now there is no one to say hello to.”

Cafe La Fortuna charmed a steady clientele despite its cash-only policy. There are a few changes over the years. A flat-screen television was installed, which is still used to view operas. They also added wraps to the sandwich selection. But in many ways, the space has remained constant: the same black tin roof and brick walls decorated with the same vinyl records and sepia-toned, autographed photos that have accumulated over the years.
Among the photos was a series of images of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who had once lived a few blocks away at the Dakota. Customers remember seeing Ms. Ono sitting in the back garden after Mr. Lennon was killed in 1980. Recently, the cafe owners gave her the table that Mr. Lennon used to sit at, which they had preserved. “It’s heartbreaking,” said Henry Stram, an actor who was sitting in the cafe today, who has been going there since it opened. Back then he was a Juilliard student paying $165 a month in rent for an apartment. “I’ve told many people,” he said. “When this place closes, it’s time to leave New York.”

Source: NY Times


3 Responses

  1. this is so upsetting. i want to go there one day…or wanted to.

  2. Something that would probably have been a pleasant surprise was that, as Great as John Lennon was, La Fortuna wasn’t great because of him, but rather, it’s greatness is what drew him. It was an amazing place, and if I find any other place like it, I’d be very happy. But there is no such other place, at least that I’ve ever seen.

  3. That’s a real bummer. It’s one of my favorite places — the iced cappucino with chocolate water ice was the best. I actually have a framed B&W photo of the place hanging in my apartment.

    Very, very sad.

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