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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Memories of the Cafe Rienzi


There are 11,000 hits when you "google" the internet for information of the Cafe Rienzi on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village, New York. It is mentioned in reminiscences and memoires of famous authors and poets and artists and musicians and even in the speech of a Nobel prize winner (The Dream Machine-Nobel Speech mentions the Rienzi). James Baldwin, Jack Kerouac, Bob Dylan and many, many more well known names crop up in connection with this cafe - as well as memories of many ordinary people who visted it and frequented it. It was a apparently a Mecca for these types of people in the 50's and 60's much like Paris was a Mecca for artists in decades and centuries preceeding.

What seems little known about the Cafe Rienzi is its beginnings - its roots. My aunt and uncle were two of the original group of friends who launched the Cafe Rienzi in the early 50's. I grew up hearing all those stories - the good times, the fights, and how one by one the original group sold their share and left. My aunt said she received $2000 for her share and spent two months or two years in Europe in grand style in London and Paris and Italy. She went over on the Queen Mary.

By now my aunt and uncle and the other folks who started the Cafe Rienze are quite elderly - in their 80's. But here I hope to start a thread of their memories of this historic and influential Cafe and piece of 20th Century American history. I have asked my aunt to write some of her memories about it, and she in turn has asked her friend Eva, and we will see if those are forthcoming - but for now, my feeble notes will have to do.
More to come as I get the time! My Aunt Joan and Uncle Tom Durant, two of the founders of the Cafe Rienzi, are pictured below.




JuneBug

17 comments:

Artemesia said...

June Bug ..Just a tidbit..
Amy was Amy Nakamura, not 'Metamura'..and she went and settled in Paris..Harry Justman saw her in Paris where he used to go every year before his stroke/heart attack.
http://www.artnet.com/artist/424819017/gert-berliner.html
Gert was/is Gert Berliner..NOT Berlina..He was a painter then and still is now:http://www.artnet.com/artist/424819017/gert-berliner.html

A

JuneBug said...

Thank you so much for this great information artemesia and for Gert's website. Eva remains one of Aunt Joan's closest and lifelong friends - and I remember Sunday dinners at Aunt Joan's with Uri and Eva when I was growing up in the 50's.

I'll note the corrections on my blog piece and add Gert's website when I can catch my breath. We were away for the weekend for my sister-in-law's funeral.

June Bug

Artemesia said...

A tidbit about Amy..

During WWll when she was a young girl..she and her family were put in an internment camp our America herded so many American Japanese families into..as possible 'spies' or loyalists to Japan. This was also a great opportunity to divest many Japanese of their businesses and property. Amy's father was the owner of a large, prosperous fishery and the USA simply relieved him of the family business. Some time after the war..the US government did make some reparation for their disgraceful actions and Amy did get some money out of this, but the family got only got a token of what they lost because of their internment and that confiscation of property.
A

farago said...

Hello--I'm curious about the segue from the cafe Rienzi to the O.G. Dining Room and what happened to the O.G. and in particular what happened to the recipe for the chocolate chip cookies they used to make; I still dream of them. On good nights.

JuneBug said...

Hi, Farago,

I have fortuitously connected with someone who used to work at the O.G. and sell those chocolate chip cookies. Since those were after my time, I didn't know about them, but I am hoping the person will post and provide us with some more history about David, the O.G. and the cookies. The individual said that David had brought back some huge baskets from France and had put wheels on them, and an umbrella and this person used to sell the cookies from the basket on one of the Avenues, I believe. It sounded like it was some distance away because he used to bring refills on large trays. Apparently there was an article in New York magazine called "The Chocolate Chip Cookie Wars," at the time - because the cookies were so successful, a lot of other places started to compete.

JuneBug

Anonymous said...

As a teenage boy in the 60's one of favorite things to do was to go the NYC on a Saturday in the fall or winter, go to the Village, buy a couple of books and go to the Rienzi for a cup of cocoa in the late afternoon.

Anonymous said...

Hi June bug,

When I was 17 rs old, I lived in the village for about 6 months. This was in 1952. There was a whole bunch of us who used to wander from cafe to cafe, usually ending up in Howard Johnson's because they were open until 5 A.M. I remember Rienzi's very well. I would go there every night, order coffee and talk. Sometimes I would wander from table to table, as did everybody else. We were all looking for something or someone, and we talked art, literature, music, but, as I recall, at least the crowd I was with, or attempted to be with, none of us ever did anything. We were a roving, wandering salon. It was a fascinating experience.

q-bird said...

I hung out at Rienzi's in the early 60's, in my twenties. I took my little Olympic typewriter with me and tried to write stories. I was Native American and Latino. I never could get anyone to talk to me and was too shy to approach other people. Later I became a filmmaker and moved to the West Village and stopped going to Rienzis. But to me then, it was the center of the world.

Anonymous said...

Back in the 60's my best friend, Sandy Wexler, was married to Harry Justman and I worked at Café Rienzi for approximately 1 year. The chef at that time I worked there was a wonderful man by the name of Perry. He did all the cooking and I did all the serving. I also learned how to use the espresso machine. It was, looking back, an amazing time. My name is Janice Frank. During this time, I lived in Sea Gate, Brooklyn which is where I knew Sandy from. She lived directly across the street from me.

Anonymous said...

Sandy Wexler Justman is my mother. Harry Justman my father. Janice Frank, I have heard your name thru out my childhood!!! My cousin Gloria Loftus introduced my father to the partners. My father was close for many years with Joan and Tom Durant who were part of the group as was David Grossblatt. My father told me many stories about so many soon to be famous people hanging out in the cafe. Everyone from Tiny Tim, Bill Cosby, Peter Paul and Mary etc. I have some great pictures of my parents in Rienzi, but I would love some pictures from others of them in the cafe. If anyone wants to reach out I am at Justwoz@aol.com.

nina justman said...

My father Harry Justman, was one of the partners in the Rienzi. he and my mother Sandy Wexler met there in the mid 50's. I have many artistic photos from the Rienzi but would love some different photos from that time. I was born in 61 and have faint recollection of the cafe, and of course have many little stories my father told me. As I get older I am so interested in hearing more and perhaps getting some pictures of my parents in The Rienzi. I remember visiting Joan and Tom Durrant in their home on 14th street and also remember David Grossblatt. Hearing more about my father and his role there would be very meaningful to me. Please reach out at Justwoz@aol.com. Oh, and Janice Frank I remember you!!!!!

nina justman said...

Hi June Bug,
My parent Harry Justman and Sandy Wexler met at the Rienzi. My father Harry was one of the partners. He was friends with Joan and Tom Durrant following the close of the cafe. I of course, have vague recollection, but mostly only remember the cafe thru stories I was told as well as some amazing pictures I have. I am very very interested in hearing stories about my father and his presence in the Rienzi from people who knew him. My father passed away in 2002, after a severe stroke that he had suffered 8 years before. He died in St Vincent's. He visited England yearly in his retirement, but did not visit Paris much after the mid 60's. Oh, and Janice Frank, I remember you!!!!!

nina justman said...

Hi June Bug,
My parent Harry Justman and Sandy Wexler met at the Rienzi. My father Harry was one of the partners. He was friends with Joan and Tom Durrant following the close of the cafe. I of course, have vague recollection, but mostly only remember the cafe thru stories I was told as well as some amazing pictures I have. I am very very interested in hearing stories about my father and his presence in the Rienzi from people who knew him. My father passed away in 2002, after a severe stroke that he had suffered 8 years before. He died in St Vincent's. He visited England yearly in his retirement, but did not visit Paris much after the mid 60's. Oh, and Janice Frank, I remember you!!!!!

JuneBug said...

Hi, Nina, thank you so much for posting. I was wondering if you could scan or take photos of some of the pictures that you mention and email them to me sometime. Would love to see them - and to post them, with your permission of course. :) My email addy is jeannewinstead@gmail.com.

Jadean Jourden said...

Hi....I'm a singer songwriter who grew up for a few years in the Village, in the early-mid sixties.... I hung at Rienzi's every chance I could from the age of 13- 16....we would cut school and go there and get a cup of coffee for 10 cents and rent a chess set for a dollar and kill the mornings till McDougal Street woke up and we went out and hit the streets..!!..
I miss my youth and have never grown up....hangin and bangin in the music business, finally getting it right after 24 years of sobriety, I'm blessed and living n Jacksonville now yearning for the days when Washington Square park was open 24 hours a day and there were no fences..!!.. Thanks for pittiing up this blog....I always wondered who owned Reinzi's..!!.. Here's my website.... don't worry....It's not a commercial site and I give my music away..!!..
Free downloads for all..!!.. Enjoy.... jayjourden.com

Ben said...

Lovely to arrive here accidentally searching for information on the Rienzi.

My name is Ben Austin and my father Avel Austin was also a partner in the Rienzi. He worked there in the 1950s and my parents even had their wedding reception there.

I was born in the 1960s and grew up in Chelsea and have spent much time with Harry Justman and Gloria Loftus. Gloria even lived with my dad for awhile.

Anyway, hello! I can be reached at ben ben austin dot com.

JuneBug said...

Hi, Ben, it's nice to meet you. Thanks so much for leaving a comment. I wanted to let you know that I keep in touch with Ariel Loftus via Facebook. I will let her know that I heard from you. :)