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.

First-wave comedy and performance[edit]

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),[3] Richard Pryor, Maya Angelou,[4] The Kingston Trio,[5] Jim Nabors, The Irish Rovers,[6] and the Smothers Brothers (then a trio)—who recorded their first album, entitled, The Smothers Brothers at the Purple Onion there.[7][3]

Music venue[edit]

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 Rip Offs, Spoiled Brats, The Trashwomen, The Phantom Surfers, The's, Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Groovie Ghoulies, The Go-Nuts, Guitar Wolf and many others.[8][9]

Return to comedy[edit]

In 2004, the club returned to comedy.[10] 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.[11]

Closure and reopening[edit]

In September, 2012, the building was sold with "no plans to rescue".[12]

The club reopened in August 2014 as Doc's Lab and hosts both music and comedy throughout the week. [13]

The Purple Onion name, however, has been in use since November 2, 2012, just around the corner as The Purple Onion at Kell's at 530 Jackson Street. It continues to showcase underground and Bay Area comedy acts on Wednesday and Thursday nights.[14]


  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. ^ a b "Five Best bet Historical bars". SF Weekly. Retrieved 2009-02-23. 
  4. ^ Kite, L. Patricia; Cosgrove, Martha (2006). Maya Angelou. Lerner Publications. pp. 71–72. ISBN 9780822534266. 
  5. ^ Kergan, Jerry. "Kingston Trio Timeline". Kingston Trio Liner Notes. Retrieved March 25, 2011. 
  6. ^ "Our Story". The Irish Rovers. Retrieved 16 May 2017. 
  7. ^ "Smothers worked on the edge". Calgary Herald. Retrieved 2009-02-23. 
  8. ^ Selvin, Joel (1996). San Francisco, the Musical History Tour. Chronicle Books. pp. 29–30. ISBN 9780811810074. 
  9. ^ Leaders of Men "Part 13 Tom Guido", retrieved October, 2014
  10. ^ Ganahl, Jane (March 15, 2004). "Laughter peals anew at Purple Onion". San Francisco Chronicle. p. D-1. 
  11. ^ Nevius, C. W. (25 August 2012). "SF Muni to America's Cup awesome so far". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 28 May 2014. 
  12. ^ Wilkey, Robin (28 Aug 2012). "Club closed for good". Huffington Post. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  13. ^ "Doc's Lab: Venue Info". 
  14. ^ October 2014 "The Purple Onion at Kell's: Venue Info" Check |url= value (help). 

External links[edit]