Two blocks from Washington Square Park. Walking down Thompson. Turn left. Two buildings down. 147 Bleeker Street. Definitely NOT bleak.
Fred Weintraub made sure it was lively. Long before there was a Bill Graham. (The Fillmore experiences started 10 December 1968). Oh, sure. Fred had different ideas- at first. Graduated from the Wharton School of Business (where my daughter is an executive, part of the U of Penn), he managed the Darling Furniture and Toy Company. This, his family business, was expanded to comprise some 50 stores- and then he sold it for a profit.)
(By the way, his bar mitzva coach was Richard Tucker, born Reuven Tucker. This chazan, who made his secular name famous at the Metropolitan Opera, traveled in the same circles as my dad when he was still both a rabbi and chazan.)
And, in 1961, Fred converted a coffee shop (there were no Starbucks back then, folks) into a venue that captured the love and investiture of youth culture. The Bitter End. (The name comes from the last strands of rope connected to an anchor.)
It was great for me. Because it served coffee and ice cream. So my age was not an impediment to my ability to enjoy the talent that adorned the stage.
The talent rolls off the tongue- but these folks adorned his stage. Joni Mitchell. Joan Rivers (who I met when she was starting out at the Riviera Country Club in Westchester). Harry Chapin (one of my NY favorites, who died of a heart attack while driving on the Long island Expressway; I was waiting for him to perform at the Salisbury Park [now Eisenhower Park] in East Meadow; that’s also how my second boss died- of a heart attack on the Van Wyck Expressway while I was still in grad school). Bill Cosby. George Carlin. Bob Dylan. Woody Allen. Nina Simone. Lenny Bruce. Neil Diamond. Flip Wilson. Lily tomlin. Dick Cavett. Billy Crystal. Peter, Paul and Mary even chose Fred’s storefront for their debut album cover. (OK. You young folks won’t know who most of these folks are. That’s your loss, not mine.)
Now, Fred didn’t have the only place worth visiting in Greenwich Village (THE section of New York to frequent for culture, knowledge, and music). There also was the Village Gate (on the corner of Thompson and Bleeker; 160 Bleeker) that opened about 6 months earlier than The Bitter End. The Village Vanguard had already been around for decades; it provided me days and nights of wonderful jazz music. And, the Cafe Wha? (where Dylan got his start, situated on the corner of MacDougal Street and Minetta Lane.) But, Weintraub was a great impressario, building upon the tradition of the Weavers (Pete Seeger was the foundation of that group), protest movements, and the folk phenomenon that exploded in the 1960s.
For those of us who actually paid to attend Woodstock (we were DEFINITELY the minority; it lost money because so few paid), we can relive the misery (and the glorious music) because Weintraub convinced Warner Brothers to finance part of the music festival and produce a “semi-documentary” of the event. Until that became the 6th highest grossing film, Weintraub was the laughing stock of Warner Brothers. (Weintraub also produced the movies Kung Fu (Bruce Lee) and the Dukes of Hazard.) He even started “Hootenany” back in the 1960s (of TV fame).
I had moved to Cambridge and Brookline (MA) by the time Fred closed the place. In 1974, the Bitter End met its bitter end. But, Weintraub continued with Hootenany and a slew of other projects. He had relocated to California (living in Pacific Palisades).
Fred succumbed to Parkinson’s disease on the 5th of March (2017) at the ripe old age of 88.
(You DO know 88 is the number of keys on a piano, right?)