Art and music mingle with coffee at Red Pipe Cafe

By Tammy Scileppi

What goes great with coffee and tea? Live music, beautiful artwork and a relaxing ambiance.

Showcasing pieces by neighborhood talent, along with soothing piano and guitar performances, the Red Pipe Organic Café on Austin Street is bringing a little bit of the SoHo art scene to Forest Hills.

Hosted by the café’s three owners, Rene David Alkalay, Giorgi Tabagari and Dimitry Benjamin, a recent event there celebrated a new exhibit featuring artwork created by four Queens-based artists, who mingled with curious patrons, as the sounds of local musician Lou Michaels’ jazz guitar filled the room.

While the lattes were flowing, the artists discussed their works, which are for sale and now on display through July 8. Alkalay called it a “magical evening” and said he was glad that each artist sold one of their pieces.

Forest Hills-based artist and regular, Katherine Liepe-Levinson, recommends Red Pipe’s aromatic chamomile lavender tea, which is brewed with a special press that’s brought to your table.

She has lived in the area 30-plus years and her apartment is around the corner from the cafe. You can see her images of houseboats in the water, fresh water ponds, waves and the like, displayed all over the café’s front area.

Focusing on “our precious water resources,” Liepe-Levinson said she’s currently using digital photography, along with a program called Adobe Lightroom, and shoots all her work in raw format.

“When you shoot in j-peg format, the camera is doing a form of processing for you; raw images means the camera hasn’t added contrast, so you get dark room-like images,” she said.

Visual artist Susan Varo’s work hangs in the café’s cozy back area. The Corona resident founded My Works of Art, LLC in 2006 and her pieces include portraiture, still life, and landscape, created in the style of realism, as well as bold, colorful abstracts.

Varo said most of what she paints “reflects a specific and special moment in time before it’s gone, and sometimes, it’s all about the beauty or the feeling from it.”

And her inspiration comes from the people she meets, her travels, and images that evoke creativity.

Varo’s many art exhibitions include Local Project in LIC, Queens Museum of Art, Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center in Corona, and the United Nations. She has an upcoming exhibition at Belmont Park Racetrack and a permanent one at New York Hospital Queens.

Rosie Rinsler’s influences are Paul Klee, Van Gogh, Picasso and Peter Max. The artist grew up and still lives in Forest Hills, and said she’s excited to display her artwork in her neighborhood.

“Art is my love, my joy and my therapy,” Rinsler said. “I like to do work that makes people happy.”

Her speciality is greeting cards, which she sells at Potter’s Wheel in Kew Gardens and other shops in Queens and Brooklyn.

Floral Park artist Elyse Fratti Elquezabal’s beautiful mixed media work hangs in the back of the café, by the piano.

“When I paint, there aren’t any mistakes,” she said. “Or, as (TV) artist Bob Ross used to say, ‘only happy accidents.’”

On a warm summer day or evening, Red Pipe Café’s doors open onto the sidewalk and you can see folks relaxing on a vintage sofa and conversing over coffee or tea, or sitting at a table, hooked up to their laptops or iPhones after work, probably enjoying time away from Manhattan’s noise and crowds.

“When I was in Manhattan in the ’60s and ’70s, I used to go to a lot of cafes. In those days they were artsy places,” Alkalay said.

He said he wanted to create a venue for local artists, so when the café first opened, his vision for it was to recreate the community-type places he’d been to, “where art could flourish and people could come and share in art, music, and poetry.”

Red Pipe Organic Café is located at 71-60 Austin St. in Forest Hills. It’s open from 7 a.m. – 10 p.m. For more information, call (718) 544-0604.