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January 13, 2008

Borsodi's Coffee House

When I went to Tulane, there used to be a cool little Bohemian coffee house over on Freret Street called Borsodi's Coffeehouse. It was right next to the Sitting Duck. In any event, I don't really recall how I found this place. Probably someone showed it to me, because it was a little off the beaten path. But it was one of the coolest coffee houses I've ever been in. It was like a big living room, with pillows on the floor. In the winter, they even had campfires indoors, if you can believe it. They had a gas line running out into the room from one wall, with some big stones around it in a circle, and they'd have a little indoor campfire burning, with people sitting around it on these big pillows and cushions.

Aside from this, it had enormous overstuffed chairs with end tables and floor lamps and I used to crawl into one of those overstuffed chairs and order a cafe au lait and they'd bring you this tray with two pitchers - one full of coffee and one full of warm milk, and you'd mix it about half and half. Back then, I didn't really drink coffee, but I could drink cafe au lait, of couse, cuz it was about half milk.

Mostly, i went there to study, but it was one of the coolest places I ever found in New Orleans. Well, Bob Borsodi, the proprietor and namesake of the establishment, was apparently one of the coolest Bohemians that ever lived. I can't say for sure that I remember him, but I remember his place like it was yesterday.

Today, I found this poem he wrote titled "A Cage Without a Door".

A Cage Without a Door
I have a dove that dwells
Within a cage without a door.
(I took the door off years ago.)
And pretty girls have asked,
Their minds full of externals,
"Is it safe?"
And how perhaps he needs a door
To protect him
Lest he sneak away somehow to the city outside
And be lost.
And compounding their request,
If he needs a mate
That he might want for friendship
In his prison without a gate.
Well, here it is.
The dove and I have achieved this rare liberty
Only after many years,
A tedious story of near disaster experiences,
Murky and dreary, too unkind to recall.
The surest safety
Comes from a source deep inside,
Deep inside the boney cage,
From a peaceful feeling there
Which I would do harm to explain.
And the sweetest friendship likewise
Comes from a free feeling there, deep inside,
That I would do harm to tame.
Yet peaceful and free
We do no harm to be.

Robert Borsodi published a book of poems titled "50 Poems" that was published in 1987, but I can't find it anywhere.

In 2003 Bob Borsodi ended his fight with cancer by jumping off the Hale Boggs Bridge into the Mississippi River.

Posted by Rob Kiser on January 13, 2008 at 2:01 PM

Comments

I just had lunch with a co-worker who is heading down to Jazzfest in a few weeks. Sadly, I am not this year.

Our chat brought back memories of my first trip to New Orleans in 1985 to visit a friend at Tulane. Along with the usual haunts like Pat O'Brien's and Tipitina's, he brought me to Borsodi's [which I have apparently misspelled as "Bersodi's" for years]. Having just read "The Dharma Bums," I felt as though I'd been time-ported back to the world of Japhy Ryder. I remember the rambling, polished tree-trunk coffee bar; the aroma of warm, spiced cider; the piles of random pillows; and the parade of would-be beatniks who would spontaneously do readings or recite poetry.

It was such a unique place that I'm continually surprised by how few people I talk to [including my wife, who went to grammar school in Metairie] remember it. In fact, I had begun to wonder whether I had dreamed the whole thing up!

Thanks for this memorial.

Posted by: Jeff Christian on April 9, 2008 at 2:31 PM

I started hanging out at Borsodi's when I was a junior in high school. My best friend and I were outsider-nerd types who considered ourselves poets. Bob instantly befriended us and invited us to read our poetry at open-mic night regularly. We weren't so good, but he always enocuraged us.

I remember there was a dove that lived freely in the place, and the coffeehouse had no phone number. There was a campfire in the middle of the floor, a natural gas pipe feeding the flame. Bob encouraged visitors to write grafitti in the bathroom. Many nights, my friend and I came in quite drunk and broke, and Bob never cared that we sometimes didn't even order anything, just as long as we played nice.

We respected the place like it was a library and a church combined. There were coloring pages and crayons, and Bob would hang your finished work on the wall. There were old board games you could play. It was Kindergarten for grown-ups. If I liked a girl, I brought her to Borsodi's. If she didn't like it, that was a red flag.

It was one of New Orleans' treasures, alongside Morgus the Magnificent, Seafood City, McKinzie's, and a dozen other things now gone.

Posted by: michael elohim on December 21, 2010 at 8:05 PM

How I loved Borsodis. I was at Tulane from 1979 to 1986 and I too have such fond memories of Cafe Borsodis. Reading your account, the poem and the other postings has brought tears to my eyes. But good tears. Thank you for bringing up such fond memories.

Posted by: Robert on June 21, 2012 at 6:49 AM

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