NEW YORK — Paul Colby — the owner since 1974 of the Bitter End, a celebrated coffeehouse-cum-nightclub that helped make Greenwich Village in New York City a legendary place by showcasing young performers including Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Billy Crystal, and countless others — died Feb. 13 at his home in Montclair, N.J.
The Bitter End announced his death at age 96.
“On behalf of all of us in the business of moving the emotions with our imaginations, special thanks to Paul Colby for being one of us,” Kris Kristofferson wrote in his foreword to Mr. Colby’s 2002 memoir (written with Martin Fitzpatrick), “The Bitter End: Hanging Out at America’s Nightclub.”
Mr. Colby bought the club about a decade after he began managing it. It provided him with a lifetime of memories: watching Van Morrison kick over tables for dramatic effect; hearing Allen Ginsberg read poetry; seeing Woody Allen so nervous that he tried to crawl out a window just before he was due onstage to do his stand-up routine. James Taylor, in an early appearance, bombed. Crystal did six shows in 1976 for $500.
Amongothers who played at the club, which seats only 150 people and holds 80 more, were Stevie Wonder, Jackson Browne, and Neil Diamond.
In 1992, Tom Paxton told The New York Times that the Bitter End was a “place to learn, to be bad, a place where you could clock your hours, learn what worked and didn’t.”
Kristofferson said that it was the place where “people like me and Bob Dylan didn’t just perform; we came to hang out.”
Other Greenwich Village clubs, including the Village Gate, Cafe Wha?, and the Village Vanguard, were integral parts of the same scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In the late 1950s, a club called the Cock and Bull occupied the space that would become the Bitter End and offered a similar format. But the Bitter End acquired cachet, not least because of its distinctive brick walls, and is still standing years after most other clubs from its heyday have closed.
The club was started in 1961 by Fred Weintraub, who named it for its nocturnal appearance. He had abandoned marriage and children and a successful baby carriage business in search of a “more authentic way of life,” he said on his website. He played piano in a bordello and operated a fishing boat in Cuba before deciding that the Greenwich Village music scene was where he wanted to be.
One of the first acts to perform at the Bitter End was a new group called Peter, Paul and Mary; they used the brick walls as the backdrop for the cover of their first album.
Weintraub hired Mr. Colby to manage and book acts in 1965. It did not have a liquor license at the time, but did offer coffee-and-ice-cream drinks.
Mr. Colby soon bought the bar next door, the Now Bar, which was attracting patrons and performers from the Bitter End thirsty for liquor. When Weintraub, who was in California at the time, learned about Mr. Colby’s purchase, he became angry and told Mr. Colby that he should concentrate on managing the Bitter End.
As Mr. Colby recalled in his memoir, he replied, “Fred, if I open up a dry-cleaning store in the Bronx with my brother, do I have to ask your permission?”
Weintraub fired him. Mr. Colby changed the name of the bar to the Other End and made it a place where folk artists could perform, putting him in direct competition with the Bitter End. When he was offered a chance to buy the Bitter End in 1974, he snapped it up and operated it as the Other End. He was able to acquire rights to the Bitter End name in the 1980s.
Paul Colby was born in Philadelphia. Five years later, his family moved to the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where his father was a tailor. He studied textile production in high school, served in the US Army, and worked as a shipping clerk.
Mr. Colby leaves his wife, Pamela Ann; and a brother.
The Bitter End still has its share of stars-to-be: Stefani Germanotta, for example, appeared there in 2006. She later took the name Lady Gaga.