Folk music and Yorkville Coffeehouses

The Riverboat

The Riverboat was perhaps the most notable of the Yorkville coffee houses. The Riverboat was opened by former coffee wholesaler Bernie Fielder and his wife, Patty in December 1964. At the beginning of Yorkville's folk scene, Bernie and his wife worked at a coffee house called The Mousehole, which was described as "charming and decidedly hip" but too small to suit this emerging scene, seating only 60 patrons. The Fielders realized the need for a larger venue and they spent 10,000$ in renovations to transform an old Victorian rowhouse into a premiere folk venue. It sat 120 people and which would go on to be hailed as "the Cadillac of coffee houses" by Canadian folk musician Murray McLaughlin.

The Riverboat was located below street level. As customers descended a flight of stairs, the smell of European coffee and marijuana filled the air. The previous boathouse foundation was evident in the venue's nautical theme which consisted of red booths lined against pine walls and brass portholes. Gordon Lightfoot described the ambiance as "dark and wonderful" and stated that "it really did give you the idea that you were on some sort of boat". In an interview with Noisey, Jane Harbury - who was a waitress at the Riverboat known as "Riverboat Jane" - explained that even the venue's imperfections led to a nautical environment. It was fairly narrow inside and the "stage only played to the west side of the room. It was just like a submarine". American folk singer, Ramblin' Jack Elliot would sport a German accent on stage and declare "velcome to the U-Boat".


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