Skip to main content
Back to Results
Cover image of The Rebel Café
Cover image of The Rebel Café
Share this Title:

The Rebel Café

Sex, Race, and Politics in Cold War America’s Nightclub Underground

Stephen R. Duncan

Publication Date
Binding Type
Request Exam CopyRequest Review Copy

Subterranean nightspots in 1950s New York and San Francisco were social, cultural, and political hothouses for left-wing bohemians.

The art and antics of rebellious figures in 1950s American nightlife—from the Beat Generation to eccentric jazz musicians and comedians—have long fascinated fans and scholars alike. In The Rebel Café, Stephen R. Duncan flips the frame, focusing on the New York and San Francisco bars, nightclubs, and coffeehouses from which these cultural icons emerged. Duncan shows that the sexy, smoky sites of bohemian Greenwich Village and North Beach offered not just…

Subterranean nightspots in 1950s New York and San Francisco were social, cultural, and political hothouses for left-wing bohemians.

The art and antics of rebellious figures in 1950s American nightlife—from the Beat Generation to eccentric jazz musicians and comedians—have long fascinated fans and scholars alike. In The Rebel Café, Stephen R. Duncan flips the frame, focusing on the New York and San Francisco bars, nightclubs, and coffeehouses from which these cultural icons emerged. Duncan shows that the sexy, smoky sites of bohemian Greenwich Village and North Beach offered not just entertainment but doorways to a new sociopolitical consciousness.

This book is a collective biography of the places that harbored beatniks, blabbermouths, hipsters, playboys, and partisans who altered the shape of postwar liberal politics and culture. Throughout this period, Duncan argues, nightspots were crucial—albeit informal—institutions of the American democratic public sphere. Amid the Red Scare’s repressive politics, the urban underground of New York and San Francisco acted as both a fallout shelter for left-wingers and a laboratory for social experimentation.

Touching on literary figures from Norman Mailer and Amiri Baraka to Susan Sontag as well as performers ranging from Dave Brubeck to Maya Angelou to Lenny Bruce, The Rebel Café profiles hot spots such as the Village Vanguard, the hungry i, the Black Cat Cafe, and the White Horse Tavern. Ultimately, the book provides a deeper view of 1950s America, not simply as the black-and-white precursor to the Technicolor flamboyance of the sixties but as a rich period of artistic expression and identity formation that blended cultural production and politics.

Jump to
Quick Add
The Rebel Café

Stephen R. Duncan

Publication Date
Binding Type
Request Exam CopyRequest Review Copy
Related

Related Books

Cover image of Comic Book Nation
Comic Book Nation

Bradford W. Wright

$30.00
Quick Add
Comic Book Nation

Bradford W. Wright

Publication Date
Binding Type
Cover image of From Front Porch to Back Seat
From Front Porch to Back Seat

Beth L. Bailey

$30.00
Quick Add
From Front Porch to Back Seat

Beth L. Bailey

Publication Date
Binding Type
Cover image of Nightmare Alley
Nightmare Alley

Mark Osteen

$35.00
Quick Add
Nightmare Alley

Mark Osteen

Publication Date
Binding Type
Cover image of Music in the Shadows
Music in the Shadows

Sheri Chinen Biesen

$35.00
Quick Add
Music in the Shadows

Sheri Chinen Biesen

Publication Date
Binding Type
Preorder
Cover image of Replayed
Replayed

Henry Lowood
edited by Raiford Guins
with a foreword by Matthew G. Kirschenbaum and an interview by T. L. Taylor

$50.00
Quick Add
Replayed

Henry Lowood
edited by Raiford Guins
with a foreword by Matthew G. Kirschenbaum and an interview by T. L. Taylor

Publication Date: June 6, 2023
Binding Type
Reviews

Reviews

I read this book with great admiration. Once and for all, Duncan consigns the thesis of the monolithic conformism of 1950s America to the dustbin of history. No other historian has analyzed so well, so sensibly, and so thoroughly the politics and aesthetics of this generation of artists, intellectuals, and activists across its numerous gender, sexual, and racial divisions.

Duncan makes the compelling argument that the 'nightclub underground' represented a clear counter-public in the cities of San Francisco and New York. An excellent book.

An indispensable guide to the unique cultural moment when a bicoastal group of underground rebels broke with the past and planted the seeds of the open, ironic, and transgressive American culture of the twenty-first century. If you want to know how we got from there to here, this is the book.

By vividly reconstructing the creative, communal, and liberating spaces that North Beach and Greenwich Village nightspots afforded a broad range of midcentury dissenters and nonconformists, Duncan's nuanced and highly original study provides us with a new appreciation for the distinct geographies and social networks that helped sustain bohemian culture in America.

See All Reviews
About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6.125
x
9.25
Pages
336
ISBN
9781421426334
Illustration Description
35 b&w photos, 2 maps
Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Maps of North Beach and Greenwich Village

Introduction. Can You Show Me the Way to the Rebel Café?
Chapter One. Blue Angels, Black Cats, and Reds: Cabaret and the Left-Wing Roots of

Acknowledgments
Maps of North Beach and Greenwich Village

Introduction. Can You Show Me the Way to the Rebel Café?
Chapter One. Blue Angels, Black Cats, and Reds: Cabaret and the Left-Wing Roots of the Rebel Café
Chapter Two. Subterranean Aviators: Postwar America's Literary Underground
Chapter Three. Bop Apocalypse, Freedom Now!: Jazz, Civil Rights, and the Politics of Cross-Racial Desire
Chapter Four. Beatniks and Blabbermouths, Bartok and Bar Talk: New Bohemia and the Search for Community
Chapter Five. Rise of the "Sickniks": Nightclubs, Humor, and the Public Sphere
Chapter Six. The New Cabaret: Performance, Personal Politics, and the End of the Rebel Café
Conclusion. Playboys and Partisans: American Culture, the New Left, and the Legacy of the Rebel Café

Notes
Index

Author Bio
Stephen R. Duncan
Featured Contributor

Stephen R. Duncan

Stephen R. Duncan is an assistant professor of history at Bronx Community College of the City University of New York.