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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.

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Posted by Rob Kiser on January 13, 2008 at 02:01 PM

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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 09, 2008 at 02:31 PM

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