23 February 2010

The Fat Black Pussycat, Then and Now



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.

21 comments:

Ken Mac said...

thanks for walking my turf

MartinD28 said...

Well...130 W.3rd was once home to the Kettle of Fish, but not until 1988 or so. So Kerouac and company wouldn't have hung at that address. BUT, 130 W.3rd is most famous for being the home of Folk City from 1970-87, so there were some interesting folks within those walls after all.

Anonymous said...

Dylan wrote blowin' in the wind there back in the day ...

Wade said...

You failed to mention the best shawarma and falafel place in NYC, Mamoun's, is right nearby too.

Panchito's was a wonderful sangria-laden hangout for NYU kids in the 1990s when I went there.

Ken Mac said...

either way, Minetta Lane is a lovely walkway. Quiet, almost secret, it always soothes my mind.

Emily B. said...

The present-day Fat Black Pussycat *is* a great place to hang out, though. It may not be the genuine article, but I always thought it had great character.

John said...

The original Kettle of Fish was on Macdougal where the recently defunct Essparanto(?) Cafe was. The outside is still the original Kettle facade. Hopefully another bar will move in an restore the place.

Wilfrid said...

It gets worse, though, because the Kettle of Fish is what the Lion's Head on Christopher Street is now called (it was briefly The Monkey's Paw in between). I am only surprised we haven't had a third Cedar Tavern pop up somewhere.

Carol Gardens said...

I agree with Wade that Panchito's is kind of an institution, in a way (opened 1972). I spent many nights there with my nearly broke friends in the mid to late 80s.

Rebecca said...

I happen to have had the pleasure of working at Panchitos, Kettle of Fish & The Lion's Head. I made my way through them in the 80's and really enjoyed each of them for their individual "feel". I have very fond memories. I always loved Minetta at night.

Anonymous said...

The Fat Black Pussycat was owned by John Mitchell, not Tom Ziegler. Mitchell had dug out the cellar on McDougal St that became his Gaslight Cafe, which he sold in the early Sixties before opening the Pussycat. When he sold the Pussycat, having been run out of NYC after the "Coffee House Scandals" in which he exposed police corruption in the Village, he moved to Tangiers, where he opened another bar, and then to la Carihuela beach hamlet outside Torremolinos in southern Spain, where he opened two more bars.

Anonymous said...

I remember John and the Fat Black Pussycat Saloon in Carihuela in the late sixties, managed by his friend Montana, John also did extra work and bit parts in some of the many US movies which were filmed in the south of Spain during that period

Johannah said...

Someone just posted on the "Ephemeral New York" blog that Panchito's has painted over the Fat Black Pussycat sign.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

I don't see it Johanna. Where on Ephemeral is this?

Anaid said...

I am searching for Bob Englehart from the Pussycat in the 60's. My father ( a producer/director) and he were great friends and he asked me to find him. Can you help?

Cristina Marín said...

Does anybody know about an american family (mother, Camille and Rick) who ran the Fat Black Pussicat in Carihuela from ¿? to 1972. I'd like so much to find this people or just know something about them. Thank you.

T Grady said...

Helen sold the bar to Ty Hardin in early 73. Don't know where she went or what she did then. John Mitchell made comments about moving on around then. When he asked me where I thought would be a good place, I told him Atlanta.

Blaine Ellis said...

Bob Englehart and Many were the owners of Cafe Feenjon that replaced The Fat Black Pussy Cat- I worked there in 1964. Tommy Zeigler owned Cafe Figaro and his brother Bert was the manager. I worked there also. We 86'd Dlyan from Figaro's because of his entourage which included Albert Grossman for being pushy jerks. Across the street from the Cat was the Kettle Of Fish and next door in the basement the Gaslight.

FWE said...

Check out the Al Pacino movie Serpico from 1973 and you will see its outside 24 min into the movie. Enjoy.

Hadley Field said...

The Fat Black Pussycat lettering is still mostly visible in Google Earth Street View. I don't know when that was photographed, but there it is for now at least.

Kelvin said...

Where did John end up , I worked for him in the Sixties at the Pussy Cat after leaving School and he was a bit of a Guru to me ! We had some great times in the place . From Kelvin of Sanurb&b , Bali, Indonesia .