The Small Wonders of the Postcrypt Coffeehouse

To find to the Postcrypt Coffeehouse, one first must find St. Paul’s Chapel (not St. Paul’s Cathedral; that’s in London). St. Paul’s Chapel is located on the west side of Columbia University’s campus, just west of Low Library and east of the Columbia Law School. Despite Google Maps guiding our way, my friend Deena and I managed to get lost several times before finding the chapel last Friday. For those of you wondering, the main entrance to the Postcrypt Coffeehouse faces Low Library (no need to exit Columbia’s campus); it is an archway to the right of the main chapel doors. You walk down a descending spiral staircase, exit into a hallway, and turn into the first door on your left. Voila! The Postcrypt Coffeehouse. 

Founded in 1964 by Columbia's then-chaplain Reverend John Cannon and Dotty Janke (née Sutherland), the Postcrypt Coffeehouse started as an old storage room in the basement of St. Paul's Chapel. Add in a performance stage, mosaic bar for customers — both of which are still used today — and furniture from the Bowery, and the Postcrypt Coffeehouse was officially born.

The Postcrypt Coffeehouse is located in a small but long rectangular room. The dark brick walls and arched ceiling make the venue truly feel like a crypt. On one long side of the room sits the stage and performers, bathed in soft light emanating from string lights hanging from the wall. Opposite the stage, the audience sits hidden in the shadows. Lucky or experienced patrons are quick enough to snag one of the black folding chairs. As the room fills up, audience members are left to lean against the walls or sit on the floor. 

Last Friday, I had the chance to see three acts: Althea Sullycole Trio, with Althea SullyCole on kora, RS Moshe on saxophone, and Alec Saelens on guitar; Wander Marchal, an indie-pop singer accompanied by an electric guitar and drums; and the James Haddad Trio, a jazz trio comprised of trumpet, bass, and drums. I was delighted. I would describe myself as a lover of music who knows very little. To be given the opportunity to listen to good music of a variety of genres (each performance was completely distinct) at no cost made my night. Each act was absolutely wonderful. The audience was warm and welcoming, oftentimes with friends and family of the performers there to support their loved ones. Not once during any of the three performances did the audience act untoward or rude to the acts. At the end of each show, the performers would mingle with the audience, thanking friends for coming and chatting with anyone who said hi. Those who entered or exited during the performances were quiet and respectful.

After a long week, discovering the Postcrypt Coffeehouse was a delightful surprise. It gave me the chance to listen to good music, eat $1 cookies, and relax with a friend. I would highly recommend a visit to anyone looking for a chill, music filled evening on a Friday or Saturday night.

During the academic year, the Postcrypt Coffeehouse holds free music performances every Friday and Saturday evening from 8:30 pm to 11:30 pm. It is a student-run, not-for-profit venue. Student managers and volunteers listen to demos, staff the bar, book performers, and clean up after shows. All tea and cookies are $1.