Cafe Society, New York 1943
Restaurateur Barney Josephson already owned the trailblazing Cafe Society in Greenwich Village - the interracial nightclub where black and white musicians performed for mixed audiences in the 1930s and 40s. The nightclub was also the scene of Billie Holiday’s first public performance of Strange Fruit, the haunting protest song about black lynchings in the South. Politically astute and an ardent supporter of civil rights, Josephson instructed the great jazz singer to sing the iconic song at the end of her set - and not to return for encores- so his clients would leave with the terrible words ringing in their ears. Josephson opened this second Cafe Society on 58th street for “ uptown folks” but it was forced to close after his brother Leon refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee and it was wrongly claimed that the restaurant was a hotbed of Communist activity. The knife and fork figure on the front cover of the menu was created by Anton Refregier. Born in Moscow, he emigrated to the US in 1920 and won a scholarship to Rhode Island School of Design. He studied abstract Impressionism briefly in Germany before returning to his adopted country in the middle of The Great Depression. One of the artists directed by President Hoover to create public works such as murals during this difficult period, he created murals in Brooklyn, New York and Chicago. His most famous work was The History of San Francisco, located at the Rincon centre in San Francisco. The mural was eventually placed under the protection of The National Register for Historic Places. Refregier also worked as an art professor at Bard College in New York and died in Moscow in 1989 while working on another mural.
Josephson held on to another restaurant The Cookery in Greenwich Village and , when he died in 1988, was hailed as a gentle and honourable man who was a pioneer in the civil rights movement
Courtesy Private Collection.
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