The Purple Onion

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Coordinates: 37°47′48.1″N 122°24′17.15″W / 37.796694°N 122.4047639°W / 37.796694; -122.4047639 The Purple Onion was a celebrated cellar club in the North Beach area of San Francisco, California located at 140 Columbus Avenue (between Jackson and Pacific). With an intimate, 80-person setting, the club was a popular influence in local music and entertainment during the Beat era.[1] After a brief time as a comedy club, the name seems retired in San Francisco.[2]

Notable entertainers who either got their starts or played the California club in the 1950s and 1960s include Maya Angelou,[3] Jim Nabors, Bob Newhart, Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, Phyllis Diller (who made her stand-up debut here[4]), the Kingston Trio[5] , and the Smothers Brothers (then a trio)[6]—who recorded their first album, The Smothers Brothers at the Purple Onion there.[4] Richard Pryor also performed at The Purple Onion. The last entertainer to appear at the "old" Purple Onion was singer and comedian Scott Hughes[citation needed].

The Purple Onion in California originally opened in 1952 under the management of Keith Rockwell. His sister and brother-in-law, Virginia “Ginnie” and Irving “Bud” Steinhoff would frequently work weekends at the club until 1960 when they took over management. Bud Steinhoff managed the Purple Onion until his death in November 1983.[7] Virginia Steinhoff continued to operate the club until 1989.

In the early 1990s, Tom Guido made the club the center of San Francisco's garage rock scene,[8] featuring such bands as The Trashwomen, The Phantom Surfers, The's, Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Groovie Ghoulies, The Go-Nuts, Guitar Wolf and many others.

In 2004, the club returned to comedy.[9] Photographer and booker Dan Dion started a weekly comedy night that featured comedians such as Robin Williams, Paul Krassner, Jim Short and Tom Rhodes. David Owen (author) presented the debut of Mort Sahl in June 2005, and shows by Greg Proops, Zach Galifianakis, Todd Barry, Dan Piraro and Judah Friedlander. After running weekend shows only, the building was sold with "no plans to rescue".[2]


The Purple Onion Steakhouse and Grill is also the name of a present-day restaurant and jazz club at 2998 Dundas Street West Toronto Canada,[10] famous for Don Francks Trio debut and 2004 recording from four decades.[11]


  1. ^ Morgan, Bill; Ferlinghetti, Lawrence (2003). The Beat Generation in San Francisco: A Literary Tour. City Lights Books. p. 35. ISBN 0-87286-417-0. 
  2. ^ a b Wilkey, Robin (28 Aug 2012). "Club closed for good". Huffington Post. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  3. ^ Kite, L. Patricia; Cosgrove, Martha (2006). Maya Angelou. Lerner Publications. pp. 71–72. ISBN 9780822534266. 
  4. ^ a b "Five Best bet Historical bars". SF Weekly. Retrieved 2009-02-23. 
  5. ^ Kergan, Jerry. "Kingston Trio Timeline". Kingston Trio Liner Notes. Retrieved March 25, 2011. 
  6. ^ "Smothers worked on the edge". Calgary Herald. Retrieved 2009-02-23. 
  7. ^ "San Rafael Independent Journal". November 17, 1983. p. 4A. 
  8. ^ Selvin, Joel (1996). San Francisco, the Musical History Tour. Chronicle Books. pp. 29–30. ISBN 9780811810074. 
  9. ^ Ganahl, Jane (March 15, 2004). "Laughter peals anew at Purple Onion". San Francisco Chronicle. p. D-1. 
  10. ^ "The Purple Onion Steakhouse and Grill, 2998 Dundas Street W Toronto". Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  11. ^ Forbes-Roberts, Ron (19 December 2006). One Long Tune: The Life and Music of Lenny Breau (Paperback). University of North Texas. p. 83. ISBN 978-1574412307. Retrieved 23 May 2013. "Live at the Purple Onion" 

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