6 Places Where the Beats Hung Out

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The world was a different place in post-war America. Suburbs were scant, malls were unheard of, and the nation was divided into either cities or farms. At that time, the group of writers known as the Beat Generation were just coalescing. They cavorted around the country in beat-up jalopies, smoking “tea” and getting drunk off of jazz and life. Although it may seem like an entirely different world, some of the establishments that birthed their creative spark are still in existence:

San Remo

This is the bar that was made famous by Jack Kerouac’s novel, The Subterraneans, although Kerouac moved the setting from New York to San Francisco. Carl Solomon first introduced Ginsberg to the dimly lit and thoroughly bohemian underground tavern, and Allen Ginsberg later introduced Kerouac. Many great names from art and literature and music were in attendance throughout the forties and fifties, from the Beats, to Miles Davis, Jackson Pollack, and Tennessee Williams.

Caffe Mediterraneum

Caffe Med was a popular coffee shop located near the Berkley Campus in California. Kerouac was a frequent visitor and would most commonly be seen writing at the outdoor cafe. The owner claims that Ginsberg wrote part of “Howl” whilst drinking coffee there.[1]

Vesuvio Café  

Vesuvio Café was a trendy San Francisco retreat for members of the Beat Generation, conveniently located right across the road from Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Bookstore. Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Neal Cassady would meet up and drink at the bar. Jack Kerouac spent an entire night drinking there during his historic trip to detox in Big Sur. That night he was set to meet Henry Miller. “Miller was going to drive up the coast from where he lived…We were going to drive down the coast and meet for supper,” wrote Ferlinghetti. [2]

But Kerouac had other plans. He slipped away to Vesuvio and got blackout drunk. He downed whiskey with strangers whilst reassuring Miller on the phone every hour that he way just delayed and he would be there soon. Jack and Henry never ended up meeting. [3]

Kettle of Fish

The Beat writers were regulars at this New York bar and eventually became part of its history.  One night in 1958, Gregory Corso and Jack Kerouac were jumped by two guys as they were leaving the bar. Jack got beat up on the street outside. His head got smacked against the curb and he broke his nose and his arm. [4] A famous picture of Jack in front of Kettle of Fish appears on the cover of Joyce Johnson’s Minor Characters:

 

 

Caffe Reggio

Caffe Reggio always was an avant-garde hangout for bohemian artists in New York City. It’s Greenwich Village’s oldest café and is rumored to be the first place in America to serve cappuccinos. Ginsberg and Kerouac were known to hang out there frequently during their days at Columbia University.  Gregory Corso would later join them.

City Lights

City Lights was both a publishing house and bookstore founded by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It was a frequent hangout for any beat writer that was passing through San Francisco. It’s located right next to Vesuvio Café. It’s famous for publishing the infamous poetry book “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg. It was almost immediately condemned as obscene and decried by the public. In 1957 police raided the bookstore and charged them offering the explicit book for sale. Ferlinghetti tirelessly defended Ginsberg’s work and after a lengthy legal battle the obscenity charges got dropped.

 

 

 Notes

[1] http://www.dailycal.org/2016/11/13/berkeleys-historic-caffe-mediterraneum-changing-ownership/

[2] Ferlinghetti, Lawrence. “How Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac Never Met”  Un Homme Grand: Jack Kerouac at the Crossroads of Many Culures. Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1990.

[3] Kerouac, Jack. Big Sur. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, 1981.

[4] Jack Kerouac and Joyce Johnson, Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters, 1957-1958 (New York: Penguin Group (USA), 2006).

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Karen Dewar

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