Talking about the memorable coffee houses in the Los Angeles area, Cosmo Alley is invariably one of those which immediately comes to the fore.
BARBARA DANE recalls her stint there with less-than happy memories.
“Cosmo Alley was originally opened in late 1957 by a triumvirate of BEN SHAPIRO, HERB COHEN and their backer THEO BIKEL (who was already a Broadway star). Herb convinced me to not only come to L.A. as the opening act but to move my family down for what was to be a permanent or at least long-term gig. BOB DOROUGH (a jazz act) and BUD & TRAVIS (a folk duo) were also regulars. I had begun to specialize in the classic blues so I really wanted a small group, but they would only hire a piano player to back me. Together we attracted both blues, folk and jazz audiences.
It was the epitome of what people imagined a Beat café would be: the waitresses wearing long black tights, long straight hair and lots of eyeliner etc.; lots of poetry and jazz, other experimentation with forms; guys with goatees and berets lurking in dark orners, all of that. It was also the first time anyone had seen a place like that in L.A.
They could stay open later than the bars, so musicians and film actors loved coming in very late after a long workday. I remember that BUDDY COLETTE and CHICO HAMILTON would jam there, and ORNETTE COLEMAN and DON CHERRY too. One night BRANDO came in and was listening to me sing with a bunch of his pals. There were always recognizable faces in the audiences, especially after hours.
I got to know LENNY BRUCE when he was working in burlesque because he would come in late and after Cosmo Alley was emptied out he'd sit and run his new material by us. Then we'd pass through the back way into an all-night burger joint which had a mynah bird in a cage near the cashier. Lenny persisted in teaching the bird a certain phrase which it finally learned: "The pope sucks!"
After a few great months, Bikel sent word that he was coming west to work on "The Defiant Ones" and wanted to install his girlfriend as the main act in Cosmo Alley. Herb Cohen and Ben Shapiro went along, without telling Bikel that I had just moved my three kids, husband and all to L. A. to accommodate the gig, and without any real advance notice to me. Then Herb put a lot of energy into trying to make life impossible for me and my family. Fortunately, ED PEARL opened the ASH GROVE soon after, where I found a musical home as well as a lifetime friend in Ed. A far more healthy scene both culturally and personally.”
After facing cancer head on in 2003, Barbara Dane is back in good health and singing better than ever. For all the latest news about her recent activities plus a panoramic look at the amazing career of the blues singer and activist, check out http://www.barbaradane.net" http://www.barbaradane.net
Don Gold shares some memories of Cosmo Alley from his backstage vantage point.
"Cosmo Alley was a coffee house/with wine and beer that was a performance center from the late 50's through the middle 60's. It was originally owned, I believe, by THEO BIKEL who left to go to Broadway to star in THE SOUND OF MUSIC.
It seated about 75-100, and BUD & TRAVIS, LENNY BRUCE, CYNTHIA GOODING, THE KINGSTON TRIO,TOM O'HORGAN, BOB GIBSON and Bob Camp, among others, were regulars at the club.
The performance area still exists at the rear of the structure on Cosmo Alley. The front of the building used to house the IVAR THEATRE. It is now a Hollywood Branch of the L.A. Public Library.
I started working there in 58 as a ticket taker. I ran the lights for the performers for which I am forever grateful since it permitted me to work with Bud & Travis. I am still a major fan of Folk Music."
(Don Gold is still resident in the L.A. area, now a Field Representative with the Directors Guild of America.)