The Venice West Cafe

The Venice West Cafe

by John OBrien

In 1965, when I was fifteen, I started hanging around at the Venice West Cafe. It was so classic as to be almost a cliché — a dank little hole in the wall, with wooden bench seats and tables. Of course, they served espresso, and the place was always full of (to me at that age) coolly romantic hipsters, complete with shades, turtlenecks — yeah, even berets. The radio played modern jazz — Monk, Coltrane, Mingus, Bird, or folk — Dylan, Baez, Peter, Paul & Mary, as well as old and obscure (at the time) stuff like Bill Munroe, Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie. Poetry readings were frequent. The place was like a Mecca to me at that point in my life.

At that time, it was run by John and Anna Haag, who had taken over from Stuart Perkoff who had started it. They, too, struck me as almost impossibly romantic – for one thing, they were stylish and attractive people, and that only served to amplify their general hipness. More importantly, they defied authority, got away with it, and sometimes even won. And to a fifteen year old boy feeling trapped in the web of adult authority (as most do) that right there is the Holy Grail.

So I spent a lot of time there. I heard a lot of good music, heard a lot of good (and execrably bad) poetry, and learned …well, a great deal more about life than I knew I was learning at the time. I got to rub shoulders with people like Taylor Meade, Claire Horner*, and a whole menagerie of creative, edgy people who were pushing toward the next thing – and there was almost a tension in the air, a compelling sense that something exciting and world-changing was about to happen. And I think I was a lot better off there than I would have been in a “youth soccer” program.

Sometimes, I worry that parents overprotect their kids these days. The typically obsessed, terrified, “helicopter” parent of today wouldn’t consider letting their teenager hang out with a bunch of degenerates such as infested the VW. And I fear that a whole lot of kids are going to suffer poorer, shallower lives because of that.

I’m just very, very fortunate that I had the chance to experience the things I did growing up in a community such as Venice was then. I hope those kind of experiences will always be there for kids – there is no substitute to be found in Disneyland.

* To be mentioned later.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 27th, 2008 at 4:59 pm and is filed under Old Fart's Venice. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

8 Comments so far

  1. 1 Pat on September 4, 2008 2:48 am

    I feel like pulling up a chair and listening in. Great memory and very nice storytelling. Keep it up!

  2. 2 Ken Cooper on July 12, 2009 10:12 pm

    I would sometimes join my beatnik brother at the Venice West Cafe. At that time I remember old worn overstuffed couches for seating, pretty good coffee, and beatnik poets. I wish I could remember the name of that poet who stood there on the platform that one dreary afternoon and said, in his cool, dry, antiestablishment voice, “Everybody loves change .. as long as it’s to something they’re used to”. To this day I refer to his words when plans for ‘change’ are voiced by the saintly well intentioned.

  3. 3 Peter Young on January 8, 2010 10:14 am

    I just read a story in the Los Angeles Times reporting that the authorities now want to preserve the building in which the Venice West Cafe stood as an historical cultural monument. What an ironic but much appreciated turn of events. In the Sixties, as the pages of the Times’ own Los Angeles history blog reveal, the authorities repeatedly attacked the Venice West Cafe as a cultural threat, the police harassing those who operated it and its patrons and various city functionaries trying to close it down. May the building long stand as a memorial to some wonderful people, including John and Anna Haag, who ran it for a while. I got to know and worked with John and Anna, but regrettably, by the time I got to Venice in 1969 as a poverty lawyer with the Los Angeles Neighborhood Legal Services Society (LANLSS), the Venice West Cafe was gone. Perhaps if LANLSS had been in existence a few years earlier, its lawyers could have helped preserve the Venice West Cafe as an ongoing venture. But I’m pleased that at least we may have its building preserved as a monument.

  4. 4 California Dreamin’ – Cinephilia and Cinephobia in L.A. | Suites Culturelles on July 9, 2010 5:11 pm

    […] poets and writers. The Beat Generation hung out at the Gas House on Ocean Front Walk and at Venice West Cafe on Dudley. Police raids were frequent during that […]

  5. 5 Jim Ferr on December 27, 2010 7:39 pm

    Peter, I was the Deputy in charge of the Venice LANLSS office around 1968 or thereabouts. I don’t believe that we knew each other. I don’t remember the Venice West Cafe either. You are correct. We had a lot of very abitious lawyers working with us and could have taken that on as a project. Even our law students were very abitious. One of them ended up on our California Appellate Court. Several others became Judges.

  6. 6 Hallie on April 29, 2016 1:17 am

    Hello, i feel that i noticed you visited my website so i came to “return the wa#nt€.I&â8217;m attempting to find things to improve my website!I guess its ok to make use of some of your concepts!!

  7. 7 Gary on November 26, 2018 8:03 pm

    Venice West Cafe was a hangout for me too in 1965 and ’66. I met Claire Horner and bought a few of his mimeographed books of poetry. This was before I encountered Bukowski. This was one of the few really cool places an underaged misfit like me felt completely at home. I returned home to Duluth, Minnesota in 1972, where I still live. Recently retired, I was doing dishes this morning and thought about Mr. Horner. It took me a few minutes to remember his name since I haven’t thought about him in decades, and Googled it which led me to this page. Ah, the Venice West Cafe, the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach with the little coffee shop with a window on the stage that a teenager could sit and listen to some of the best jazz on the Coast. When I started driving, I delivered the L.A. Free Press, Berkely Barb and other “underground” newspapers to a little store in Venice. I delivered them at 3 AM and a couple of times was pulled over by the cops for being suspicious. One of them bought a copy of the Barb!

  8. 8 Pavlick on November 27, 2019 9:34 am

    I like how the author organized his ideas as well as the visual




Share your wisdom