The Purple Onion
Coordinates: 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.
The Purple Onion 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. Virginia Steinhoff continued to operate the club until 1989.
First-wave comedy and performance
Notable entertainers who either got their starts or played the California club in the 1950s and 1960s include Bob Newhart, Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, Phyllis Diller (making her stand-up debut), Richard Pryor, Maya Angelou, The Kingston Trio, Jim Nabors, and the Smothers Brothers (then a trio)—who recorded their first album, entitled, The Smothers Brothers at the Purple Onion there.
In the early 1990s, under Tom Guido's management, the club became the center of San Francisco's garage rock scene, featuring such bands as The Trashwomen, The Phantom Surfers, The 184.108.40.206's, Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Groovie Ghoulies, The Go-Nuts, Guitar Wolf and many others.
Return to comedy
In 2004, the club returned to comedy. 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 presented the debut of Mort Sahl in June 2005, and shows by Greg Proops, Zach Galifianakis, Todd Barry, Dan Piraro, and Judah Friedlander. By 2010, the club was only running weekend shows, though these shows were usually over capacity at 100–110 people.
Closure and reopening
In September, 2012, the building was sold with "no plans to rescue".
The club reopened on November 2, 2012, in San Francisco, as The Purple Onion at Kell's at 530 Jackson Street. It continues to showcase underground and up-and-coming national and Bay Area comedy acts on Wednesday and Thursday nights.
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- San Rafael Independent Journal, November 17, 1983, p. 4A.
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- Kite, L. Patricia; Cosgrove, Martha (2006). Maya Angelou. Lerner Publications. pp. 71–72. ISBN 9780822534266.
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- Selvin, Joel (1996). San Francisco, the Musical History Tour. Chronicle Books. pp. 29–30. ISBN 9780811810074.
- Leaders of Men "Part 13 Tom Guido", retrieved October, 2014
- Ganahl, Jane (March 15, 2004). "Laughter peals anew at Purple Onion". San Francisco Chronicle. p. D-1.
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- Wilkey, Robin (28 Aug 2012). "Club closed for good". Huffington Post. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
- October 2014 "The Purple Onion at Kell's: Venue Info".