How the club's name came about is something of a mystery. According to one story, the lower-case "i" was meant to represent "intellectual." Banducci swore that it was literally Freudian and was short for "the hungry id." In another story, the sign was not finished in time for the club's opening, and next-day reviews in the San Francisco papers cemented the name for all time. In another story, artist Mark Adams came up with the name. "It (the lowercase 'i') designated the first-person singular, with all of its various cravings," he explained in a 1985 interview quoted in a 2006 obituary for him.
Originally located at 599 Jackson Street on the ground floor of the International Hotel, the hungry i and Banducci were also instrumental in the careers of actor/comic Ronnie Schell, comic Bill Cosby, comic Lenny Bruce and minister Malcolm Boyd. Musically, The Kingston Trio recorded two famous albums at the hungry i, including the first live performance of their version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". Tom Lehrer's final satirical album That Was The Year That Was (1965) was also recorded there, as well as The Limeliters' album Our Men In San Francisco (1963).
Jazz legend Vince Guaraldi, folk singer Glenn Yarborough, the Gateway Singers, and comedians Godfrey Cambridge, Professor Irwin Corey, and Mort Sahl were also given career boosts from their appearances at the hungry i, as well as Dick Cavett and Woody Allen. The folk-rock group We Five were signed to A&M records after Herb Alpert saw them perform there.
John Phillips (of The Mamas & the Papas fame) and his The Journeymen were the house band in the early '60s.
The young Barbra Streisand begged Banducci for a single night at his nightclub, insisting that she would soon be a huge star. Banducci agreed to sign the singer, who had never performed professionally but was eventually starring in I Can Get It for You Wholesale on Broadway. The resulting concerts (March-April 1963) were well-attended, giving Streisand nationwide acclaim.
When the comedy and folk music scene wilted in the mid-1960s with the rise of hard rock and Vietnam war protests, Banducci closed the club and sold its name to a topless club at another location nearby at 546 Broadway, where the name doubtless still draws in unwary tourists interested in history. Banducci and many of the club's performers reunited in 1981 for a memorable one-night performance, captured in the nationally televised documentary hungry i Reunion, produced and directed by Thomas A. Cohen and featuring separate reminiscences by Maya Angelou and Bill Cosby.
An exhibition on the history of the hungry i opened March 28, 2007 at the San Francisco Performing Arts Library, now the Museum of Performance & Design, and was on view through August 25, 2007. Alumni who performed at the hungry i during its heyday — as well as club owner Enrico Banducci and his daughter — gathered for an opening celebration March 27th. Among those reminiscing on their time at the club were Orson Bean, Shelley Berman, Father Malcolm Boyd, Travis Edmonson, Tom Lehrer, The Kingston Trio, Mort Sahl, Ronnie Schell, Ernie Sheldon, and Glenn Yarborough.
San Francisco's 50,000 watt clear channel KGO broadcast several talk shows live before an audience from the Hungry i in the 1950's and '60s, notably hosted by Les Crane and Ira Blue. Mort Sahl was KGO's overnight announcer in the 1950's.
References and notes
- Famed Artist Mark Adams Leaves Behind a Rich Tapestry of Color and Glass, by Steve Steinberg, Retrieved December 23, 2009
- "Artist Mark Adams Leaves Behind a Rich Tapestry of Color and Glass", Noe Valley Voice (March 2006)
- SF Chronicle, Obituary, ENRICO BANDUCCI: 1922-2007 The impresario of North Beach Retrieved October 20, 2011
- …from the "Hungry i"
- 'hungry i' at Barbra Archives website
- Interview about 'hungry i' exhibit at the San Francisco Performing Arts Library & Museum (March 2007)
- Enrico Banducci, Bar School, and a Guy From Fresno via CoastNews.com
- Farewell Favorites: Enrico Banducci and the hungry i: Five Pages
- Dorothy Currin at Enrico Banducci's hungry i (scroll down)
- Enrico Banducci and the hungry i - BBC Programme Catalogue
- Barbra Streisand: Early Performances - Live at the hungry i
- "The hungry i Reunion" TV show, The New York Times (February 10, 1982, original review September 18, 1981)
- 'Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame'