Monday, July 2, 2012

Iwalked New York City’s Café Wha?

Iwalked New York City’s Café Wha? - On a wintery January 24, 1961, a young nineteen year old Robert Zimmerman arrived to New York City having hitchhiked all the way from Minnesota. His first destination? A small club which he had heard about called Café Wha? That day, Zimmerman convinced the club’s owner, Manny Roth, to allow him to play here despite having a limited resume of performances. (Zimmerman had in actuality only played once publicly prior to this.) Roth impressed with Zimmerman’s dedication (having moved from Minnesota after all) provided Zimmerman the opportunity. Young Robert would proceed to play a full set that day consisting exclusively of Woody Guthrie covers.

 Café Wha?
 Café Wha?
Over the ensuing months, Zimmerman would become a staple of Café Wha? And Robert’s status as a folk legend would begin to build as the man originally known as Robert Zimmerman would be transformed into Bob Dylan (named after his idol, poet Dylan Thomas). Others would later follow in Dylan’s footsteps at Café Wha? as this small club began to be recognized as one of the top havens for musical talent during the 1960s.

The cast of musicians and comedians which has graced the stages of Café Wha? has included the likes of Ritchie Havens, Bill Cosby, Kool and the Gang, Richard Prior and Bruce Springsteen. Mary Travers, of Peter, Paul and Mary fame, was a former waitress here before being discovered. And Louis Gossett, Jr. actually sang folk songs here before deciding to pursue acting full-time.

In June of 1966, the house band for Café Wha? was an unknown act that dubbed themselves Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. Amongst the band’s members was an aspiring guitarist named Jimi Hendrix (then going by the name Jimmy James). Hendrix, although not a native New Yorker, had played in the city for a period beginning in 1964. He did not stay long though. After being discovered by the Animals manager Chas Chandler, who had taken a liking to a little song called “Hey Joe,” Chandler swept Hendrix out of New York and off to London where larger fame would await.

As for the club itself, Café Wha? first opened its doors in 1959. Its original owner, Manny Roth, had a knack for discovering talent in those days. His gift may have been aided by having such a talented nephew (David Lee Roth). Manny owned the club until 1988 when he sold the business. Today Café Wha? continues to function as a music venue that primarily features a roster of varying house bands (depending upon the day of the week).

  • Website:

  • Address: 115 MacDougal Street, New York City, NY

  • Cost: May vary by night. See website for details.