It took an (upper west side) village, but Coogan's Irish bar and restaurant on 169 Street in Washington Heights was saved from an ignoble end this week.
Coogan's, the beloved Irish bar and restaurant in Washington Heights in New York City made the news this week when a rent spike that threatened to close it forever was dramatically overturned at the eleventh hour.
Things had looked grim. After 33 successful years the landlord, New York Presbyterian Hospital, had decided to raise the rent by a reported $40,000 a month.
It was exactly the kind of cut throat real estate spike that's decimating old Manhattan, turning it into one giant Duane Reade slash CVS slash Starbucks slash stockbroker condo colonial outpost, since they are the only outfits left that can afford the ballooning rental prices.
“Our lease will expire in the early summertime and we cannot afford the new rent,” Coogan's management had written on their Facebook page. “Please know that Coogan's always put the community first and we will miss it tremendously. Our number one priority will be to secure employment for our employees when we arrive at the time to finally close.”
Talk about a Help Me, Obi Wan Kenobi moment. But what happened next could have been plucked from the pages of a Broadway musical, not from a famous space opera.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, the man who put Broadway on the map like no other writer in the 21 century with his smash hit Hamilton, took to Twitter to express his dismay to his 2.1 million followers.
Manuel's intervention led prominent news outlets to report the planned closing: ABC7NY, 1010 WINS, PIX 11, WNYC Radio, NBC New York, CBS New York, amNewYork and The New York Times all weighed in among many others. Coogan's was making the news.
But even yet owners Dave Hunt, Tess McDade and Peter Walsh didn't quite grasp the level of community support that was assembling. In fact they were still speaking about how much they would miss operating the old place.
“As we approach the closing we look forward to your continued support by making Coogan's your “home away from home” right up until the very end,” they glumly wrote on Facebook, “with the pleasure of your lunches, dinners and special events. We are absolutely committed to serving you in the manner that we always have done, right up to the very bittersweet end. Let’s go out with a bang!”
Not so fast, said the local community. In a groundswell of support that reminded some of a scene from the beloved holiday classic It's A Wonderful Life, neighbors and prominent political figureheads banded together to discuss how they'd rescue the venue.
For Miranda, it was a particularly personal matter. He had been coming to Coogan's with his family since it had first opened its doors in 1985. He had celebrated his childhood birthdays there. He wasn't about to surrender all those memories without a fight.
“When riots were tearing the streets apart in July 1992, Coogan’s stayed open 24 hours. One evening, it hosted the local precinct captain and a local power broker, who met in the back room. The next day, the riots ended.”
Coogan's is more than just a community hub, Dwyer reminded people. It's the heartbeat of the neighborhood. Lose this and lose a crucial piece of yourselves. That was the kind of appeal that changed the debate. What happened next happened quickly.
“With strong community support and hard work by our elected officials and intervention by the Miranda family the landlord has been moved and handshakes have been done,” the restaurant wrote, sharing fist pump photos that include a singing Miranda with his father Luis A. Miranda Jr.
In the grand Irish tradition the hard details of the settlement were not announced. No matter. We know that 15,000 people signed a petition in support of the place. Another thing we know is that when Coogan's say Cead Mile Failte (A Hundred Thousand Welcomes) they really mean it.
So what are you waiting for? Go celebrate with them! How often do stories end this happily? We should all cheer loudly when the good guys triumph.