The West Bank Cafe is a New York City staple, particularly in the tight-knit performing arts community. It is in the Café’s basement theatre, known as the Laurie Beechman Theater, where the first “Sunday in the Park With George” rehearsals were held and Joan Rivers did her last standup routine. But the once-bustling eatery and cultural epicenter had fallen victim to the pandemic. The prolonged lockdown kept it closed for several months, outdoor dining was obliterated by cold weather, and the high costs of adhering to new hygiene and safety regulations stifled revenue.
Located in Hell’s Kitchen, on 42nd Street just west of Ninth Avenue, West Bank Café has been operating for more than 40 years. The theater opened in 1983.
Actor Tim Guinee and others rallied to save their favorite venue, coming up with the idea for a virtual telethon held on Christmas Day. Joe Iconis, Broadway composer and lyricist, served as producer of the event. Some 200 artists, including Matthew Broderick, Pete Townshend, Debra Messing, Nathan Lane, Alan Cumming, Isaac Mizrahi, and Alice Ripley appeared on the five-hour fundraiser. Ultimately, $319,000 was raised, far beyond the original goal of $250,000.