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Joni Mitchell, in a Bleecker Street Cafe

Joni Mitchell in an undated photo. Source: www.last.fm

We here at Off the Grid are obviously big fans of the Village folk scene of the 1960s, and today we’re thrilled to spotlight one of its biggest stars. Singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell was born on November 7, 1943 in Fort Macleod, Canada. As with so many aspiring musicians of her day, she came to New York to hone her craft, and performed in various venues on and around MacDougal Street in the spring of 1967.

Let’s try and retrace Joni’s steps to some of her old Village haunts.

Southeast corner of Bleecker and Thompson Streets where the Cafe Au Go Go once stood mid-block. 1940. Source: NYPL.

According to one source, her first performance in the city took place at the Café Au Go Go, which was located in the basement of 152 Bleecker Street. Sadly, this building no longer stands (it, along with several other buildings, was replaced by an apartment building). The Café Au Go Go would have been located just across the street from the Bitter End where fellow folk singers Peter, Paul, and Mary got their start in 1961.

This is located within the South Village Historic District GVSHP proposed and fought to get designated —  you can learn more about that here.

In Sheila Weller’s book, “Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon—And the Journey of a Generation,” Joni frequented the Tin Angel Café on Bleecker Street with Blues singer Roy Blumenfeld. It’s believed that their bittersweet relationship led to the song “Tin Angel,” which happens to be one of my favorites of Joni’s.

Here are some of the lyrics that likely reference this old Village haunt (does anyone know where on Bleecker Street it was located?):

There’s a sorrow in his eyes
Like the angel made of tin
What will happen if I try
To place another heart in him

In a Bleeker Street cafe
I found someone to love today

Undated photo. Source: www.last.fm

Joni was also known to have stayed at the Albert Hotel at 23 East 10th Street (corner of University Place), which was listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places earlier this year. The Albert was built in 1875-76, and it’s remembered for attracting countless artists, musicians, and political radicals for most of its history.

In more recent memory, Joni made a guest appearance at the Bottom Line on November 7, 1995 during an Eric Anderson performance. Located at 15 West 4th street, this music venue was forced to close down in 2004 after its landlord, NYU, raised the rent. In a particularly sad ending for this great Village venue, the building now houses NYU classrooms.

10 responses to “Joni Mitchell, in a Bleecker Street Cafe

  1. I posted the other day when I came across this, but it seems to not have taken. So briefly, the Tin Angel was next to the Bitter End (east of it) and up one flight of iron exterior stairs.

    Directly across from the go go and above a rowdy bar called the doughout (sp?) I have a restaurant in Nashville also named Tin Angel in honor of the old place. There is also the Tin Angel, an outstanding club in Philly. A fancy Tin Angel in Pittsburgh and lately one in Utah?

    If you want to contact me directly Amanda I’ll fill you in on what I know about the tin angel in the village

  2. The Tin Angel was at 149 Bleeker st. on the 2nd level. today it is Terra Blues. Bitter End was 147 Bleeker St. I know this because I am a big fan of Joni since 1968. I serendipitously discovered it after going to the Bitter End and looked up and there it was, a small sign, and it hit me this is ‘THE’ Bleeker street café from her song on the CLOUDS album, released in 1969

  3. I was amazed to find this listing. My name is Bill DeSeta and I designed and owned the Tin Angel along with my partner Fred Weintraub from 1967-70. I had managed the Bitter End for Fred from ’64-’69. Just previous to managing the Bitter End I produced a show called “The Third Ear at the Premise, directed by Elaine May, in the basement of the building in the picture.I subsequently became a writer and designer for films and now write a political blog; urban curmudgeon.com

    1. I posted and did the first comment above, about 5 years ago. I obviously loved the Tin Angel, ate and drank there often as I was a music journalist and/or PR person during this magic time (and lived on Jones and Charles Streets so it was a short walk under the best of circumstances).
      I will seek your blog Bill as I have been accused of “curmudgonry” on more than 1 occasion.
      I have tried to locate pics and Tin Angel artifacts of any kind over the years with very limited success.

    2. Did you “design” the lighting, which, if memory serves, consisted of stainless steel graters with bulbs inside?
      Grate idea!

  4. I waited tables at the Tin Angel in 1966 when Tim Buckley and I were living in the Village that summer – Tim was playing at the Night Owl. I remember seeking Nico, singing solo downstairs from the Tin Angel; I thought to myself, ‘She’ll never make it, her singing voice is awful. ‘ Leonard Cohen was sitting alone at one of the tables in the small, dark room. He looked depressed and aloof to my 19 year old eyes. That was Timmy’s first gig, other than Hoot Night at the Troubadour in Hollywood and some gigs he had while he was still in high school in Orange County CA. Thanks for reading, Jane (Jainie)

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