31 Cornelia Street, Manhattan
Benjamin Warner

Open from 1958-68, Caffé Cino is widely considered to be the birthplace of Off-Off Broadway Theater and was an important incubator space for gay theater. Its founder, Joe Cino, envisioned a café where artists could exhibit their work, and soon began hosting performances of experimental and low-budget theater. At the time, the depiction of homosexual subject matter on stage was illegal, but the café constantly worked around the police through clever advertising and by not requiring a cabaret license since they did not serve alcohol. As such, Caffé Cino became a platform for gay playwrights who had no other venue to experiment so freely. By 1960, it had become an important touchstone for the gay community, but also for unknown artists and playwrights who could not otherwise afford to stage their work. With the burden of theater fees and financial success lifted, creativity flourished and many important playwrights, directors and actors got their start here. The café was also a significant meeting spot for gay men at a time when such places were few. The café closed in 1968, a year after Joe Cino took his own life following the accidental death of his partner, Jon Torrey. Cafe Chino is NYC Individual Landmark located in a NYC Historic District and listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places.