The Alley Coffeehouse

My friends described the backside of Beacon Hill in the ’60s as a working-class slum. Not at all an accurate description. Worn at the heels, seen better times, shabbily genteel; those were better descriptors. The populace were refugees from Boston’s urban renewal in the West End, healthcare workers from the Mass General and Eye and Ear, and Folkies. The neighborhood had many charms for its residents. It was cheap, convenient to transportation, had a 24-hour drugstore, and you could roll down the Hill into the Emergency Room at the MGH. Being that most of us did not have things like medical coverage or primary care physicians. The ER was were we routinely got treated for everything from drug overdose to pediculosis. Power users of these services rarely paid. Many had no fixed abode, and the bills would go into mailboxes and from the mailboxes into the trash.


Legal, illegal, and dubious commerce flowed freely along the main thorofare of Charles Street. Coffeehouses, restaurants, antique dealers, clothiers, and head shops flourished. Habitues of both sides of the Hill had to do their business there.
On any given Friday or Saturday night, there was an influx from the suburbs of teens. Most were wanna be Folkies, proto-hippies, and the hungry eyed drugsters from the burbs that knew that they might find their need satiated here.
Some haberdashers catered to the need for just a better cut of a chambray shirt, embroidered jeans, or hat. Then there were also people satisfying other needs. Afterward, quite a few of those wound up in the ER at MGH.


The inhabitants of the third floor Grove street flat occupied by the Teahouse of the August Moon, myself, and my friend Billie had a more genteel racket. We sent Bill, a natural carnie if there ever was one, out befriend the starry-eyed and bring them back to an actual wall to wall Folkie paradise. There we would ply them with Narragansett beer, folk music, and entrust them with confidences about how life really was on Wild Side. In the process, they provided reimbursement for their tuition. They received a more humane fleecing than our friend Dutchie was providing down the street. Many returned in subsequent weeks for graduate work.
Weekday evenings we could be found at the foot of Grove street in our booths in the back of the Harvard Gardens. The table in front of us littered with twenty-five cents 8-ounce glasses of beer that the Evie, our waitress, brought to us by the dozen. One night I was a nasty drunk. I had been told by a coffeehouse owner that I had auditioned for that I wasn’t “sexy” enough. My friend Bill, always the one for wild solutions to problems, looked at me and said, “shit, we’ll open our own coffeehouse in the alley behind his. That began the Alley Coffeehouse in it’s one and only incarnation. The Teahouse of the August Moon gathered some folding chairs. Bill invested in paper cups and a bottle of cheap Chianti. I brought my guitar. Like a rapid guerrilla operation, we set up in the alley just behind the Charles street coffeehouse location. As soon as we had everything set, I began to play. Free Chianti and music began to attract customers. Bill, with waiters, folded napkin over his arm, greeted each and every new arrival and showed them to a seat. The sound of musical notes penetrated into the building in front of us. We were joined soon by one of the performers at the coffeehouse and some of the clients. Soon a screaming proprietor emerged with threats to call the police. Having achieved our goal, we began a procession down the alley towards home singing a bawdy rendition of the Kweskin Jug Bands “Washington At Valley Forge.”
Later back at the Gardens, we celebrated a successful raid upon the Establishment.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.