Coffee, Confusion and Jim Morrison: The Forgotten History of Hip Coffee Houses and Beatnik Poets in the Nation’s Capital


Cafe Rienzi, opened by painter David Grossblatt, was one of the first coffee shops in New York. Located on MacDougal Street, 1957.

“The Beat Generation emerged in the 1950s as a bohemian-fueled movement of visionary literary heroes, passionate poets and colorful, off-beat characters whose very lives were driven by an emotional quest for experience and an insatiable thirst for spontaneous poetry, unrestrained sex, bebop jazz, marijuana (which they called ‘tea’), impulsive travel and esoteric philosophy. Two main camps of the Beat Generation emerged in the United States as their presence permeated mainstream American culture: a New York contingency comprised of such luminaries as Jack Kerouac, John Clellon Holmes, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, and Herbert Huncke; and a West Coast faction whose ranks included Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, and Lew Welch. The creative power of these literary pioneers inspired devoted followings of like-minded writers and artists in hip coffee houses across the nation, with a particularly intense scene materializing in Washington, DC, where a venue known as ‘Coffee ‘n’ Confusion’ became the focal point for the city’s ‘beatnik’ contingency and is noted today for having been the site of the very first public performance of rock and roll legend Jim Morrison, who as a teenager gave an original poetry recital on the dank coffee house’s cramped, makeshift stage. … While Jack Kerouac’s first novel The Town and the City was not widely read, his second effort in 1957, On the Road, was credited for announcing, in effect, a new consciousness. It was a major event in the annals of Beat Generation literature and fostered a special magic with its undirected raw energy, prose-poetry, and larger-than-life protagonists ‘Sal Paradise’ (Jack Kerouac himself) and ‘Dean Moriarty’ (Neal Cassady – a major prototype hipster figure in both the Beat Generation culture of the 1950s and the hippie movement of the 1960s), who zoomed back-and-forth around the country in search of thrills and experiences. As Beat Generation consciousness expanded during the late 1950s, San Francisco Chronicle reporter Herb Caen noted in his April 2, 1958 column (‘Pocketful of Notes’) that Look Magazine had hosted a party in a North Beach house for fifty ‘beatniks’ in preparation for a forthcoming article on the subject. It marked the first time the term ‘beatnik’ had ever appeared in print and quickly became the moniker bestowed upon those who ingratiated themselves into the Beat Generation world. The beatnik image was shaped by a wave of books and articles that projected images of shaggy, bearded, beret-topped, bongo-playing, marijuana-smoking men and sullen, straight-haired, black-dressed women. …”
Washington Art
Poems in Street, Coffeehouse, and Print—The Mid-1960s
Coffeehouses: Folk Music, Culture, and Counterculture
Coffee and Bob Kaufman, Poet of the People


Lew Welch, Gary Snyder, and Philip Whalen before the Freeway reading in 1963.

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
This entry was posted in Allen Ginsberg, Books, Burroughs, Counterculture, Hippie, Jack Kerouac, LSD, Marijuana, Poetry and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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