Coffee Dan's, Los Angeles 1930s
SLIDE into the happiest crowd in town, suggests this menu from Coffee Dan’s, San Francisco. This was because a 15ft slide was one of the ways patrons accessed the basement restaurant in this famous speakeasy at 430 Mason Street.
According to 1929 newspaper reports, Coffee Dan’s was one of the most popular nightclubs in the world during the Prohibition era when alcohol could not be served publicly.
‘To its doors all the celebrities, near-celebrities and ordinary persons flock in great numbers to pound tables with the little wooden mallets, to hear the visiting entertainers who never refuse to entertain at Coffee Dan’s, and not least to hear Frank Shaw, the ingenious master of ceremonies,’ reported the New Brunswick Record newspaper.
‘Night after night, pleasure-seekers haunt its closely crowded confines to join in the revelry, capably conducted by Frank Shaw. Shaw is no respector of persons; he will insist that every artist or entertainer in the audience perform and woe betide those that dare refuse. For that reason, the entertainment at Coffee Dan’s is spontaneous and the audience appreciative.’
This party atmosphere was illustrated by Coffee Dan’s appearance in the 1927 Warner Bros’ film The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson.
The film depicted the fictional story of Jakie Rabinowitz, a devout Jewish boy who runs away from home to become an entertainer. Jolson’s character nervously performs for Coffee Dan’s patrons who determine the fate of performers by beating small wooden mallets – depicted on the front of this menu – on tables. If the patrons make a loud noise, the act is deemed a success.
During his performance, which was actually shot at the Warner Bros studio in LA, Jolson improvised and uttered the now famous phrase:” “Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain’t heard nothing yet!” The Jazz Singer created motion picture history because it was the first feature-length film with synchronized dialogue, marking the ascendancy of “talkies” and the end of the silent film era.
Coffee Dan’s served American and Chinese food and you will notice that the only drinks on offer on the menu ranged from tea to ginger ale. Alcohol would have been served ‘under the table’ or patrons would bring their own.
The poem on the front cover of the menu is by Edward Robert Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, an aristocratic Englishman and poet who died in 1891.
You can hear a soundtrack of a night at Coffee Dan’s on an old recording on YouTube; search for: Frank Shaw; a Night and Coffee Dan’s and hear those mallets in action!
We believe Coffee Dan’s closed in the 1950s.
Courtesy Private Collection.
Each print is accompanied by a copy of the interior menu or cover.