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Wanna-Beats: In 1959, Café Bizarre Gave Straights an Entree Into Beatnik Culture

Counterculture lifestyles grow slowly, and are almost completely over by the time the general public becomes aware of them. The Beat Generation flourished in the 1950s, and was explained to the public in a 1959 spread about the beatniks of Venice Beach, California, in Life magazine.  

The Manhattan editors at “Life” could have saved themselves the trouble of flying a team of reporters and photographers clear across the country by simply hopping a subway car for Greenwich Village, the East Coast capital of beat culture. And their first stop may well have been a coffeehouse called Café Bizarre, which had opened in 1957 to cash in on the folk and poetry scene. By 1959, café owner Rick Allmen was hawking copies of a private-label LP titled “Assorted Madness,” which promised “Beat Erotica” on its cover and featured earnest poetry and desultory music by some of the café’s most infamous denizens.

One of those denizens was Rafio the Mad Monk, a.k.a. Walter Brooks, who preached his occasionally sacrilegious love poems to customers sharing a “Suffering Bastard Sundae” ($4.75, serves four) or tucking into a “Cannibal” sandwich (raw chopped steak and a raw egg on your choice of rye, white, or Russian pumpernickel for $1.50). A few of Rafio’s poems are featured on “Assorted Madness.” They are among the most listenable minutes on the otherwise forgettable album.

Take a trip back to Cafe Bizarre in its heyday, and meet the beats who ran it, at Collectors Weekly.  


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