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.


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 Bijou, but being that legendary acts like Betty Carter and Billy Eckstine among others appeared there, 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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15 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. Joe_Williams says:

    Thanks, Frank!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.
    John M.D.

  7. Bruce Birmelin says:

    To see the site today,there’s no evidence that a great little basement jazz club once existed down a short flight of stairs. I saw the John Coltrane Quintet with Eric Dolphy there in 1963. Anybody have a photo of the Showboat facade,circa 1960’s ?

  8. Joe says:

    Bruce, thanks so much for visiting the site and commenting!

    The John Coltrane Quintet! That must have been a heck of a show.

    Sadly, there seems to be very little in the way of a history of the place and even fewer photographs. Hopefully there is somebody out there with some pictures either from inside or outside of the place.

  9. Michael says:

    I remember the Bijou well and saw several shows there. But I saw the incredible Elton John last night (July 15, 2022) and told anyone who would listen that I saw him perform at The Bijou as an OPENING ACT for Tracy Nelson and Mother Earth (uncertain as to what year). Elton himself said last night in his farewell to Philadelphia that his first Philly show was in 1970 at The Electric Factory. The Internet so far has not confirmed my recollection that he performed at The Bijou opening for Tracy Nelson. Can ANYONE here confirm my recollection 9or even say to me “stop drinking”!?

  10. Joe says:

    Thanks for the info. I sort of came across a black hole in regards to information about the Bijou. That’s one of the weird things about Philadelphia. A lot of great things happened here but you wouldn’t know it as far as the internet is concerned.

  11. MICHAEL says:

    Thank you Joe. My memory ain’t always great but usually for shows I’ve seen and where I’ve seen them it is pretty good. My recollection if accurate is EJ got a lot of buzz when he first came over to the States and I wanted to check out the hype. The rarely remembered Tracey Nelson and Mother Earth was very good at the X so I thought great show, great venue. I walked out thinking Elton John, WOW (he’d jump up often from his piano bench with–hide the women and children–a flashing light bulb going off/on at crotch level!). But any bragging rights I have are worthless until I can confirm somehow I saw him as an OPENING ACT!! (He said this past Friday his first Philly show was at the Electric Factory in 1970 so I’m starting to doubt myself).

  12. Brian Glenn says:

    I was there only once in 1974 to see Barry Manilow. I had heard Could it be Magic on the radio, and the DJ followed up by announcing his upcoming performance. I couldn’t remember the name of the place, just recalling that it was in a small basement barroom. Reading your article confirmed it was the Bijou. I was in college at Drexel and a few months shy of turning 21. I was so nervous that I might be carded and not allowed to enter, but I was lucky and so glad to be there to hear Barry so early in his career and even enjoyed those old songs from his first and second albums. I’ve been a fan for 50 years! Thanks! — a Pennsauken kid

  13. Joe says:

    Thanks for commenting. It must have been a terrific show!

  14. Tom Schnabel says:

    Around 77/78 I saw the band Oregon there several times. They were fantastic, original and talented. I later saw McCoy Tyner there with his band (81/82), knowing he had played there before with John Coltrane. An intimate setting, yes you felt you were right there on stage. I remember you could see their sign from blocks away to the north. And I knew Grover recorded an album there. At the time I didn’t realize it was affiliated with the Electric Factory. Yes, sadly lost to the sands of time.

  15. Joe says:

    Thanks for commenting! Your interest is firing me up, and I will have to seek out other missing gems in Philadelphia!

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