Okay, I finally have time to sit down and type out a few notes from my last telephone conversation with my aunt about the Cafe Rienzi. It was started by a group of seven friends who were writers and painters in Greenwich Village:
- Tom and Joan Durant - Joan was a pianist and a writer, and Tom was a painter and philosopher.
- Eva (an Austrian immigrant) and Gert (a German immigrant) Berliner* - Gert was a painter. I'm not sure what Eva's art passion was at that time. Gert and Eva eventually separated and Eva is now a retired professor at an exclusive college in New York City.
- Amy Nakamura* (from Japan) - I believe Amy was an artist.
- David Grossblatt - a painter
- Harry Justman and Gloria Siegal
The Cafe Rienzi opened in June 1952 at 113 MacDougal Street. It was the first popular Coffee House in the Village. It had 25 to 30 tables - and seated 150 to 200 people. It had a back room and a front room. There were other Cafes in the Village at that time - small Italian Cafes, that only Italians went to - and a ritzy Cafe named The Peacock.
From the stories I heard growing up, it was a successful albeit tempestuous start. The original group of friends left one by one. Uncle Tom left after the first few months - actually I recall Aunt Joan told me once that the group (including her) kicked him out - I need to get the rest of that story.
Gert, Eva's husband, was the next to leave, and then Aunt Joan left in November and realized a life dream when she traveled to Europe for the first time. She went over on the Queen Mary.
Eventually Harry and David had the Cafe for ten years.
Almost all the famous writers and painters of the fifties and sixties, the beats and the abstract expressionists, frequented the Cafe - and my Aunt and Uncle had opportunity to meet them before they really became famous. Poets - Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Peter Allosci. Artists and sculptors - Mary Frank and Robert Frank, Franz Klein, Jackson Pollock, DeKooning, Bob DeNiro (the actor's father), and Paul Resika, who painted Aunt Joan's portrait and who lived downstairs from Edward Hopper. Writers like Larry Rubin, Richard Wright, and James Baldwin.
Aunt Joan recalled that they used to have loft parties and that she and Bob DeNiro used to love to dance together to Billie Holiday's music. Aunt Joan was also a counselor and teacher's aid at the Greenwich House for the son - Bob DeNiro the actor when he was a boy.
Well, other duties call, and that's about all I have for now. I'm hoping that Aunt Joan and Eva will be supplying me with more stories as time passes by. Aunt Joan wrote a couple of plays based on the Cafe Rienzi that were performed on Off Broadway.
*Thanks to Artemesia for the corrections on the names!