Share This



By: Jarrod Dicker
New Brunswick, NJ, USA

Bob Dylan, a young 20 years old, strolls down the historic streets of Greenwich Village circa 1961, frost glistening off the stones he saunters upon.  A mosey down Macdougal Street will arouse his every ardor.  Cigarette in hand, he gazes into passing bars and coffeehouses envisioning himself one day to perform live at such establishments.  Like many who venture toward achieving the American Dream, Dylan threw his hope into the water hoping for the big fish to bite.  The fortunate “fish” ended up being Gerde’s Folk City coffee shop on 11 west 4th street.  A review by Robert Shelton in a September 1961 issue of The New York Times would transform his life forever. “Mr. Dylan is vague about his antecedents and birthplace, but it matters less where he has been than where he is going, and that would seem to be straight up (Shelton).”  Robert Shelton was right.  Bob Dylan did rocket straight up, and remains one of the utmost respected musicians of all time. And the venue credited for launching Dylan’s premier act was Gerde’s in Greenwich Village…..sadly; Gerde’s closed its doors a short time after.

In the late hours of the evening it was documented that Dylan and his crew would gather at after hour coffeehouses to dish poetry and lay back.  This “crew” consisted of some of the most influential poets in American History, the pride of the Beat Generation in Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg to name a few.  The establishment that would harbor this team of geniuses was the celebrated basement venue The Gaslight Café.  Starting as a “baskethouse” where unpaid performers would collect tips at the end of their routine, this venue was the anchor for the entire BEAT movement.  Musicians would perform there as well in their inaugural years, hosting then unknowns such as Bruce Springsteen and Wavy Gravy.  It was the epitome of Greenwich Village, a sanctuary for the entire music foundation. However, in 1971, The Gaslight Café ceased its operations as well.

A dawdle down Bleecker will shortly draw near to Bowery street.  Straight ahead lies CBGB’s, the punk Mecca, owned and run by legendary Hilly Kristal since 1973.  This establishment has housed some of the most innovative musicians of all time in The Ramones and David Byrne’s Talking Heads.   Kristal didn’t even intend for CBGB’s to be the symbolic home of punk.  In an interview on CBGBs website, Kristal states, “It stands for the kind of music I intended to have, but not the kind that we became famous for: COUNTRY BLUEGRASS BLUES."  CBGBs changed its own intentions in order to satisfy the modern infatuations of the music scene.  Greenwich Village music was a loaded gun, concocting new styles, cultures and scenes constantly with a heavy finger on the trigger.  Well, lucky for Kristal it withstood many years of varying fads and altering lifestyles.  But....even CBGBs.... went the way of dinosaurs.

So are the golden antiques that made the Greenwich Village music scene, “The Village” lost and gone forever? Are the bounding streets of Broadway, Houston and 14th merely broken down fences?  Does the Hudson River flow silently on its side?   Or is Greenwich Village still contained in its own harmonic entity….?

I can see it now…. Burroughs and Kerouac looking down in disbelief, holy lattes in hand.  Andy Warhol painting a sad face on his immortal canvas knowing that his Factory of Exploding Inevitable Plastic Events has evaporated in the air of time.  How about the musicians?  How about Jimi Hendrix who headlined Café Wha?  Wait a second.... How about Jimi Hendrix who headlined Café Wha?

Café Wha? remains a prolific and historic venue since the 1950’s, offering a variety of music 7 days a week.  Standing at its original location at Bleecker and West 3rd, its history speaks for itself, as it has produced some of the greatest musical acts of all time.  As noted on their website, the Café Wha? has birthed renowned artists Jimi Hendrix, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby and more.  And more?!  The Café Wha? featured historic musicians and comedians throughout their 50+ year existence and continue to do so.  Now they pack the scheduled week with three unique house bands; Brazooka (Brazilian influence), Disfunktion (R&B/Soul) and the Café Wha House Band providing a little taste of all the genres.  As Bob Dylan once said, “But the first one now will later be last.”  He must not have been talking about the Café Wha? 

And how about Jimi Hendrix? Greenwich Village still stands home to Jimi’s recording studio “Electric Lady Studios.”  Even though he only spent a short time producing there before his death in 1970, many notable artists such as Bowie, John Lennon and Weezer, have lived his legacy and recorded live sessions at the establishment.  Constructed in early 1970 this rock haven has withstood 39 years of modernism... still not enough resin from the antique “Village” music scene?  How about another classic venue which paved the way for Manhattan’s innovative music landscape...

New York’s Famous “Bitter End,” home of America’s Stage still stands at its original location on 149 Bleecker Street since its inauguration in 1961.  This music Mecca has booked everyone from Stevie Wonder to the recent indoor/outdoor concert of Neil Diamond last May.  Many artists have cut live albums here such as the late Donny Hathaway, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger.  This institution comprehends the necessity to remain open-minded in the music business to keep its name alive.  Manager and co-owner Ken Gorko said, “we [BITTER END] must know when to change and what we can encompass to make the Bitter End better.”  During the 1960’s it designated Tuesday of each week to “Hootenanny Tuesdays,” featuring up and coming artists, who since then have become successful in various genres other than folk.  A lot has changed however since the “hootenannies” triumphed on 149 Bleecker.  Woody Allen won’t be performing there again anytime soon, but they still manufacture music and comedic aptitude in their later years, proving why they have coasted through the modern times.  Jon Stewart made his start at The Bitter End as a standup comic.  Even as his popularity escalated, and he eventually signed to THE DAILY SHOW, he would hold interviews and casting calls at The Bitter End because this was where he was comfortable.  New York City endowed The Bitter End with landmark status in 1992.  “We welcome all types of music and invite all brands of musicians,” exclaims Gorko.  So as long as there are gifted and innovative varieties of music, comedy and entertainment, the Bitter End will remain immortal throughout their battle with Father Time.

Even though The Gas Light Café has been extinguished, there still remain various other watering holes where artists would amass to socialize.  The renowned White Horse Tavern, which stands at 11th and Hudson street, has been a Village establishment since 1880.  Popularized during the 1950-60’s from their clientele of Dylan Thomas, Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson, this literary haven was a drinking retreat for Greenwich Village’s social elite.  It features writing on the bathroom wall, stating “Jack Go Home,” which someone wrote because of the frequent and often never ending attendance of Beat phenom Jack Kerouac.  It also is known for being the place where Dylan Thomas was drinking before passing away a couple days later due to unrelated causes, as mentioned on 

So it appears that much of the Greenwich Village music scene’s history is still preserved through landmark establishments in The Bitter End and Café Wha?.  Producing some of the greatest artists of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, these institutions continue to distribute immense musical talent and offer a dais for artists to blossom and expose themselves to the millions of curious ears always feigning for something edgy.  Even though notable folk houses and rock havens have floated away with the ocean of time, we must recognize and appreciate the ones that have stood strong and remain devoted for the purpose of allocating great music and ability.  Roger McGuinn of the Rock and Roll Group, The Byrds, once said, “I always got a kick out of it when they called it the California Sound because it really came out of Liverpool and Greenwich Village.”  You know what they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.  This highlights the Greenwich Village music scenes attitude and devotion, that as a historic stepping stone for folk, rock, jazz and punk it still is dedicated to continuing its tradition of delivering new and outstanding music to the community.  Society must recognize the tremendous innovative attitudes and styles “The Village” has created and the pioneering it will continue to carry out throughout its everlasting existence in musical history.


All opinions expressed by Jarrod Dicker are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.

Become a Thirsty Friend:

Share This

Search Thirsty for:

© Stay Thirsty Media, Inc. 2006 - 2009
All Rights Reserved

Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Terms of Sale | Contact | Site Map