Cafe Wha?

Café Wha?

On the corner of MacDougal Street and Minetta Lane in Greenwich Village is Café Wha?, one of the most important clubs in rock history. It was opened in 1959 by Manny Roth in a former basement stable and became the launching ground for many rock legends. Among others to play here were Peter, Paul & Mary, The Velvet Underground, and Bruce Springsteen.

Bob Dylan played a gig here in 1961 on his first night in New York, after having hitchhiked all the way from Minnesota. The club was hosting a hootenanny (open mic) and Bob joined Fred Neil and Karen Dalton on harmonica. He had no place to sleep that night, so the MC asked if anyone in the club could give him a place to stay.

Jimi Hendrix had a regular show here in 1966 with his band at the time The Blue Flames. He had been seen at another club by Linda Keith, the then girlfriend of Keith Richards. She decided to help Jimi and became a kind of manager. At the time, Jimi did not own a guitar, having pawned his last one, so he needed to borrow guitars for shows. Linda gave Jimi one of Keith’s guitars, a white Stratocaster, which became his trademark. She wanted to introduce Jimi to Keith, but whether or not Linda and Jimi had a romantic relationship, Keith thought so and broke up with Linda, wanting nothing to do with Jimi. She tried to find other people in the London music scene to help Jimi, and eventually convinced Chas Chandler, the bassist of The Animals, to come to Café Wha? to see him perform. Chas was blown away and brought Jimi to London. The rest is history.

In addition to music, the club also played host to many comedians of the time including Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and Joan Rivers.

Roth sold the club in 1968 and it became Feenjon, which featured Middle Eastern music. In 1987, it was sold again, changing its name back to Café Wha? which it has remained since, but it now mostly hosts retro classic rock tribute bands.

Rock out at Cafe Wha? on our Secrets of Greenwich Village Tour.

Did you know Manny Roth was the uncle of David Lee Roth from Van Halen, and the singer spent time here as a child? The band actually played a special concert here in 2012.