I've always thought it a shame that the only business concern with a presence on picturesque, lovely, crooked Minetta Street is the cheesy Mexican restaurant Panchito's, whose main entrance in on the tourist-and-B&T-laden Macdougal Street. How nice it would be if the 1950s-60s beatnik haven The Fat Black Pussycat still held the address.
There's still evidence of the Pussycat's former tenancy. The coffee bar's name is painted in faded black letters on Minetta Street just above the garishly red Panchito's back entrance. To the right of the words, in script, is the word "theatre," for, indeed, the Pussycat added a 148-seat cafe theatre in 1962. The cafe was owned by Tom Ziegler, who was also proprietor of the nearby (and recently departed) Cafe Figaro. The cafe opened in 1958 at The Commons. It was a big part of the beatnick, bongos, espresso culture that thrived in the Village back then. It had poetry readings, folk music and jazz and espresso, along with a languid, Bohemian ambiance. The Pussycat name was adopted after the expansion in 1962.
Among the performers the Pussycat showcased were Tiny Tim, Mama Cass Elliot, Richie Havens, Bill Cosby and Shel Silverstein. The place had a short life when you think of it; it became Panchito's in 1972 and has been such ever since. Yet, the Pussycat is a legend and Panchito's, well, isn't.
If you walk a block to W. 3rd Street, you might be fooled into thinking that the Big Black Pussycat lives. For right there at No. 130 is a bar and club with that very name, in the space that used to be the Kettle of Fish, a Kerouac hangout back in the day. As far as I can tell, however, the place has no connection to the original Pussycat; perhaps they bought the rights to the name. It's owned by Noam Dworman, whose family also owns the Comedy Cellar and Café Wha?
Confused yet? I know I am.