Subterranean nightspots in 1950s New York and San Francisco were social, cultural, and political hothouses for left-wing bohemians.
The art and antics of rebellious figures in 1950s American nightlife—from the Beat Generation to eccentric jazz musicians and comedians—have long fascinated fans and scholars alike. In The Rebel Café, Stephen R. Duncan flips the frame, focusing on the New York and San Francisco bars, nightclubs, and coffeehouses from which these cultural icons emerged. Duncan shows that the sexy, smoky sites of bohemian Greenwich Village and North Beach offered not just entertainment but doorways to a new sociopolitical consciousness.
This book is a collective biography of the places that harbored beatniks, blabbermouths, hipsters, playboys, and partisans who altered the shape of postwar liberal politics and culture. Throughout this period, Duncan argues, nightspots were crucial—albeit informal—institutions of the American democratic public sphere. Amid the Red Scare’s repressive politics, the urban underground of New York and San Francisco acted as both a fallout shelter for left-wingers and a laboratory for social experimentation.
Touching on literary figures from Norman Mailer and Amiri Baraka to Susan Sontag as well as performers ranging from Dave Brubeck to Maya Angelou to Lenny Bruce, The Rebel Café profiles hot spots such as the Village Vanguard, the hungry i, the Black Cat Cafe, and the White Horse Tavern. Ultimately, the book provides a deeper view of 1950s America, not simply as the black-and-white precursor to the Technicolor flamboyance of the sixties but as a rich period of artistic expression and identity formation that blended cultural production and politics.
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