It’s no secret that I’m not really a non-fiction reader unless the book in question is a celebrity memoir. But when Last Call at Coogan’s: The Life and Death of a Neighborhood Bar by Jon Michaud came on my radar, I was drawn in first by the cover, then by the synopsis (to be fair, anything that includes Lin-Manuel Miranda immediately gets added to the list).
Coogan’s Bar and Restaurant was opened in 1985 and stayed open through many turbulent years and crises before it shuddered its doors finally during the pandemic in 2020. A Washington Heights staple, it was more than just a bar - it was a community gathering place that brought people together even in the roughest of times.
This book was such a pleasant surprise! From its opening pages, I was immediately drawn in and invested in the story of this bar. At times, I forgot that I was reading non-fiction, the story unraveling much as a fiction book would and hooking me with the different people and storylines. I was so invested that I literally held my breath at one point waiting to find out if a Coogan’s employee who had been shot lived or died. It's clear that a lot of care, love, and research went into this book and it had me flipping pages until I found I had finished the whole book in one sitting.
Though Michaud is presenting facts that just happened, he was able to wave them together with stories that make you understand how and why Coogan’s was so beloved. While I actually really loved every moment of this reading experience, I’m devastated that I will never be able to personally experience Coogan’s for myself.
Not only does Michaud do a great job of talking about the bar and its history, but he is able to weave in major different issues that still plague our country to this day, such as race relations and gentrification. A story about a bar is not supposed to raise such hot button issues or be as deep as it was, but Michaud is not only able to share the history of Coogan’s, but the stories of the people who loved it as well.
Last Call at Coogan’s: The Life and Death of a Neighborhood Bar by Jon Michaud hits shelves on June 6, 2023 and you can preorder a copy for yourself here.
Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher for free and have voluntarily written this review. If you purchase a copy using my Bookshop affiliate link above, not only will I receive a small commission (which will fuel my coffee and tea addiction and help to keep me up all night reading more books to recommend to you), but you will be supporting indie bookstores as well! If you prefer Amazon, visit my Amazon storefront and click on the list titled "2023 Book Recommendations."