Rice+Lipka Architects is restoring the cultural legacy of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe


Nuyorican, a portmanteau of New Yorker and Puerto Rican, came about during the ‘70s as more than just a moniker. It’s an identity, movement, and way of life. A place that embodies this is the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, where the evolving Latin diaspora and America conjoin as a comforting home and place of art and learning. Now, 50 years after its opening, the cafe will undergo a renovation by Rice+Lipka Architects for $24 million set to be completed by spring of 2026.

Founded by Miguel Algarín in 1973, the cafe started as a living room salon for poets and musicians of color to perform. In 1981, the tenement building the cafe is currently housed in was purchased to expand the cafe’s program and performance roster, however, it remained a one-story structure. The main floor and space that has housed open mics, jazz performances, and readings is solemn and small. The growing population and programs led to the decision to expand the space to a total of four stories and while keeping it authenticity. 

Lyn Rice, cofounding principal of the New York–based Rice+Lipka, told AN the firm received the commission as part of the New York City Design Excellence Program. The studio was selected from a pool of design architects. Its previous experience with cultural renovations and public works, is telling of why it would be chosen for the culturally significant project. Past projects include the Sheila Johnson Design Center and The Kitchen.

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Rendering of the first floor expansion of the cafe (Courtesy DCLA)

With the help of the cafe, Department of Design and Construction (DDC), and Department of Cultural Affairs, Rice+Lipka are looking to enhance the cafe’s values. Beyond the expansion, the cafe will look relatively similar to the original. “A lot of the energy is in the bricks,” said Caridad de Luz, executive director of Nuyorican Poets Cafe. The renovation will stick to its simple rustic look, one that emulates that feeling of being in cafe founder Miguel Algarín’s living room. The main performance venue will be expanded and slightly revamped as it takes on a more chic black look for its bar. The facade will stay mostly intact, but with new windows.

“​​The facade has always been this canvas for expression, it always had the graffiti and so we continue that as the facade is supposed to be canvas for interaction,” said Astrid Lipka, cofounding principal of Rice+Lipka.

The new floors will contain new teaching spaces as well as new stages to further the spoken word practices. “We have a dedicated team of engineers and architects that will be here everyday for the next 24 months,” Thomas Foley, the DDC commissioner said in a statement. An elevator will be installed for ADA access and an office space for staff are also part of the project scope.

Luz was ecstatic when she heard Foley commit to the 24-month turn around. The cafe has been hosting programs remotely since the pandemic or operating out of other venues. 

Considering she had been mentored by the founders of the cafe, Luz in her leadership role hopes this renovation will usher in a new generation of Nuyoricans. “It’s also a big moment for Puerto Ricans, Nuyoricans, and the diaspora.” Luz said “Luckily. Blessfully and not even luck, because of the hard work and those seeds planted. We’re not going anywhere, we’re gonna stay here, we’re going to be here forever.”





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