Last Call at Coogan's: The Life and Death of a Neighborhood Bar (Hardcover)
The uniquely inspiring story of a beloved neighborhood bar that united the communities it served.
Coogan’s Bar and Restaurant opened in New York City’s Washington Heights in 1985 and closed its doors for good in the pandemic spring of 2020. Sometimes called Uptown City Hall, it became a staple of neighborhood life during its 35 years in operation—a place of safety and a bulwark against prejudice in a multi-ethnic, majority-immigrant community undergoing rapid change.
Last Call at Coogan’s by Jon Michaud tells the story of this beloved saloon, from the challenging years of the late 80's and early 90's, when Washington Heights suffered from the highest crime rate in the city, to the 2010’s, when gentrification pushed out longtime residents and nearly closed Coogan's itself; only a massive community mobilization including local politicians and Lin-Manuel Miranda kept the doors open.
This book touches on many serious issues facing the country today: race relations, policing, gentrification, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Along the way, readers will meet the bar’s owners and an array of its most colorful regulars, such as an aspiring actor from Kentucky who dreams of bringing a theater company to Washington Heights, a television reporter who loves karaoke, and a Puerto Rican community board manager who falls in love with an Irish cop from the local precinct. At its core, this is the story of one small business, the people who worked there, the customers they served, and the community they all called home.
About the Author
JON MICHAUD is the Collection Management Librarian at the Millburn Free Public Library. His debut novel When Tito Loved Clara (Algonquin) was named a best book of the year by The Barnes & Noble Review and was a finalist for the Writer’s Center First Novel Prize. Michaud was the head librarian at The New Yorker from 2003-2012 and the head librarian at the Center for Fiction from 2015-2017. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Tin House, LitHub, CrimeReads, and numerous other publications. The recipient of a 2022 fellowship from the New Jersey Council on the Arts, Michaud lives in Maplewood, NJ with his wife and two sons. An American citizen, he was nonetheless the Irish junior javelin champion in 1983.
“Brimming with larger than life characters and drama, the epic story of Coogan’s shakes us on the shoulder and reminds us what New York City—or any city—can look like when people with courage and heart lean into a community to create miracles. Jane Jacobs couldn’t imagine a more compelling example of vibrant urban life than the story that unfolds in this remarkable book.”
—Dave Isay, Founder, StoryCorps
“Jon Michaud has struck just the right note, lamenting the loss of a beloved neighborhood bar while making it possible for us to join him there. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have to stop once in a while to press the open pages of this book against your heart. Eloquent and bittersweet.”
—Mary Norris, bestselling author of Between You and Me and Greek to Me
"Jon Michaud paints the scenes of life inside Coogan's, the legendary Irish bar in uptown Manhattan, with humor, wisdom and a gimlet eye for detail. Thirty-five years is a stellar run for a watering hole, but Coogan's was so much more. Writers, reporters, storytellers, politicians, movie stars and locals came together to create a happening of inclusion and good times. This multi-layered story is well told and unforgettable in the hands of Mr. Michaud. Last Call at Coogan's is a cocktail for the soul."
—Adriana Trigiani, author of The Good Left Undone
“A beautifully observed love song to a neighborhood bar, a vanishing version of Washington Heights, and a bunch of (sometimes drunk) artistic dreamers and community activists in its orbit.”
—Jonathan Lee, author of High Dive and The Great Mistake
“A lively, well-told account of an improbable love affair between an Irish bar and an uptown barrio. If you're looking for a book that captures the soul of what makes New York New York, this is it. ¡Vive el Coogan! Last Call is a gem.”
—Peter Quinn, author of Cross Bronx and Looking for Jimmy
“As anyone who frequents bars knows (myself included), it’s the people who make the place work—the staff and the patrons—and Last Call at Coogan’s brings to life a cast of colorful characters who enliven this heart-warming and heroic story. Sit down with your beverage of choice, open the book, and become one of the regulars at the legendary establishment.”
—Nelson DeMille, bestselling author of The Maze and Plum Island
“One of the legendary Manhattan saloons gets its proper due in Last Call at Coogan's. Reading anecdote after anecdote about the people on both sides of the bar is like being among longtime friends, smelling the beer and the roses while listening to the best raconteur in town holding court. Cheers to a tale well told.”
—Tom Clavin, New York Times bestselling author of Lighting Down
"Meticulously reported and deeply felt, Last Call at Coogan’s is an absorbing chronicle of one special saloon and why it mattered so much to the people it brought together—and a testament to the genuine community-building power of which great bars are capable."
—Rosie Schaap, author of Drinking With Men
“Michaud biographizes the alehouse with both objectivity and heart, welcoming the reader into this space where a starry-eyed motley crew of business partners managed to rise above the area’s addiction and disease to make community.”
—Kia Corthron, author of Moon and the Mars
“A fascinating and enlightening look at a neighborhood bar that became a focal point for a resilient culture—one of those New York stories that is full of surprises, gossip and fun.”
—Adrian McKinty, bestselling author of The Chain and The Island
“In a city of neighborhoods, a bar can be an institution, every bit as much as a museum or a concert hall. Jon Michaud's Last Call at Coogan's is the story of a great neighborhood bar, at a critical moment in New York's history. It was a place that became a crossroads for all sorts of different peoples, who found they could laugh and drink and sing together, and while its end was sad, it's the sort of story that gives us hope in a troubled time.”
—Kevin Baker, author of The Fall of a Great American City
“An ambitious overview of the forces that batter the individual as they do the collective: gentrification, homogeneity, displacement.”
—New York Times Book Review
“Librarian Michaud (When Tito Loved Clara) delivers a stirring tribute to Coogan’s, a restaurant and bar in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City…Earnest, evocative, and full of crisply rendered profiles of employees and patrons, this is a rewarding study of how communities are built.”
“Last Call at Coogan’s serves as a memorable Irish wake in book form for a beloved establishment where the owners looked out for the patrons as much as for themselves. Librarian and author Michaud offers a touching chronicle of a beloved New York watering hole.”
“Michaud provides cameos of the owners, workers, and regulars and a rich accounting of the pleasures and woes of this remarkable neighborhood social institution. Warm, humane, and generous, this book ticks every box for a pleasurable read.”
"[Last Call at Coogan's] successfully communicates a sense of loss and shows a generous sensitivity to its subject. Often, it reads like a work of salvage anthropology, an attempt to preserve in words a vanishing communal institution we will all be poorer without."
—Chicago Review of Books
"Michaud has provided a portrait of how a neighborhood bar can enliven, nurture and even improve a community."