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]

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.[2] Virginia Steinhoff continued to operate the club until 1989.

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.

In the early 1990s, Tom Guido made the club the center of San Francisco's garage rock scene,[7] 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.[8] 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.[9] In 2012, the building was sold with "no plans to rescue".[10]

The original location closed its doors on September 24, 2012. The club was reopened as The Purple Onion at Kell's at 530 Jackson Street in San Francisco on November 2, 2012.[11]

The Purple Onion continues to showcase established national and Bay Area comedy acts on Wednesday - Saturday nights.[citation needed]


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,[12] famous for Don Francks Trio debut and 2004 recording from four decades.[13]


  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. ^ San Rafael Independent Journal, November 17, 1983, p. 4A.
  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. ^ Selvin, Joel (1996). San Francisco, the Musical History Tour. Chronicle Books. pp. 29–30. ISBN 9780811810074. 
  8. ^ Ganahl, Jane (March 15, 2004). "Laughter peals anew at Purple Onion". San Francisco Chronicle. p. D-1. 
  9. ^ Nevius, C. W. (25 August 2012). "SF Muni to America's Cup awesome so far". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 28 May 2014. 
  10. ^ Wilkey, Robin (28 Aug 2012). "Club closed for good". Huffington Post. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  11. ^ "The Purple Onion at Kell's: About Us". Retrieved 28 May 2014. 
  12. ^ "The Purple Onion Steakhouse and Grill, 2998 Dundas Street W Toronto". Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  13. ^ 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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