The Bijou Cafe

In-Print-1979While trying to de-clutter some of the clutter around the old homestead, I came across a free publication from the Spring of 1979 called In Print. It was produced by Philadelphia-area college students aimed at Philadelphia-area college students. It was a review of the 1970s as that decade drew to a close, and the articles were densely typeset with dull halftones of celebrities and politicians sprinkled here and there. None of the stories were very interesting — mainly Top Ten type of stories and polls of readers. Best movies of the decade. Best record albums of the decade. Watergate. Patty Hearst. Charlie Manson. The Olympics. That sort of crap.

What was interesting was the many ads for businesses, movie theaters and other venues that don’t exist any more like the one below.

Bijou-Cafe

I remember hearing radio advertisements for the Bijou Cafe when I first started to get into FM radio, but I don’t remember the place itself. I did an internet search in the hopes of coming up with an image but came up mostly dry. I found Grover Washington, Junior’s album Live At The Bijou which was recorded there in 1977 and an article about how Barry Manilow decided to stick with his singing career after a week of shows there, but no pictures of people flocking to get into the place or shots of the stage or bar or anything. Otherwise, I found scraps of information indicating the place as a vibrant club showcasing an incredibly diverse roster of acts, but no history of the place and no pictures.

I started art school in 1981 slightly North of the Bijou’s locale, but I have no recollection of the place. I commuted to school from New Jersey and kept to the campus and the bus route home. Maybe I never wandered down that way. It was a different time back then and South Broad Street was somewhat seedier than it is now. Prostitutes openly plied their trade at Broad and Spruce just outside of the school and hordes of vagrants bunked in the pungent subways beneath. It wasn’t a great idea to wander.

Still Lombard was close enough to the Philadelphia College of Art that I should have remembered  seeing something. Lombard isn’t too far from my beaten path so I grabbed my camera in search of the Bijou Cafe.

1409A new apartment/condo building went up on the corner of Broad and Lombard, and as I approached I feared that whatever was left of the old jazz club was gone. It turns out that 1409 is still there and just past the corner.

DSCN0792I recognized the place at 1409 Lombard having walked past it probably hundreds if not thousands of times, but I have no memory of it as The Bijou Cafe. It looks like an apartment building from old movies. It always looked that way to me. Maybe The Bijou went under or pulled up stakes by the time I was going to school.

DSCN0787I looked at the place trying to imagine where a club would operate. The basement would be a hep place for a jazz joint. I don’t know. As I said, I looked around some search engines and didn’t find much on the place. There is a plaque outside on the sidewalk, but it has nothing to do with the Bijou.

hoilday-signBillie Holiday slept there.

I must admit to not doing an exhaustive internet search of the place, but being that big acts like Betty Carter and Billy Eckstine played the place’s stage, you would figure there would be more information on the place. If somebody out there has some info or a link to some images, feel free to comment.

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6 Responses to The Bijou Cafe

  1. I went there many times. It was a smallish “night club” operated by Electric Factory that held a couple of hundred people at most. It was in the basement. There was a balcony. Kweder, U2, Karon Bihari and The Teardrop Explodes come to mind immediately. I’m sure there were more. At the TTE show I gave them some photos that I took of them the week before at the Ritz in NYC and they used them in a book on the Liverpool scene! Roxy Music played there (with Eno!) before I was old enough to get in. I begged and begged but management said no.

    I’m sure Kenn Kweder would be helpful. He played there many times, I think.

  2. Tina says:

    Frank, thanks so much for commenting – we were wondering if the club was in the basement! We appreciate your input and sorry about the Roxy Music show – it was probably great!

  3. j. Pepper says:

    It was a wonderful little place. I remember the entrance being near townhouses, and it was small but very comfortable. It felt like you were onstage with the performers. I saw a barely known Billy Joel there, and Leon Redbone and another time, The Roaches. It was a great place to see people. I didn’t know who Billy Ekstein was back in those days, but I wish I saw him there. The Roaches poked their heads out of an 2nd floor window before the show to wave and say hi to people waiting in line. Last time i was there was probably 1980 or 81. I have often wondered what happened to that sweet space. Thanks for posting.

  4. Joe_Williams says:

    Thanks, J Pepper. Your and Frank’s comments are what I was hoping to get from this post. The Bijou sounds like another one of those fantastic Philly places lost to the sands of time. Hopefully somebody out there can scrounge up some photos.

  5. John MD. says:

    Can anyone confirm for me that Prince did indeed perform at this venue back in 1979? I know a show was scheduled there for him, but most publications say that it was cancelled due to Prince getting sick on the tour. However there seems to be some info online that states that this show actually took place.
    I would love for anyone with info either way to contact me regarding this.
    Thanks.
    John M.D.

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