Blue Unicorn

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San Francisco's Blue Unicorn - The Haight-Ashbury's first coffeehouse

This site will present both historical and anecdotal information about the Blue Unicorn, the Haight-Ashbury's first coffeehouse.  We encourage submissions of comments and photos. If you have something you'd like to submit, send us an email. 

Check out our Links page for some really hep film and articles! 

 

A brief history

The Blue Unicorn first opened its door on December 21, 1962.  The owner, Bob Stubbs, had spent some years in the beat scene of North Beach and was looking for a place to open his own coffeehouse.  The only requirement was simple - cheap rent.  The 500 block of Frederick street in the Haight-Ashbury provided that.  At that time the Haight was a moderately run down neighborhood full of those wonderful Victorian houses - and the rent was cheap.  The many immigrants (a large percentage Russian) gave it a pleasant European flavor.  Small shops abounded.  By 1965 the Unicorn moved to 1927 Hayes street, one block off the Panhandle where it remained until the late 1970s.

In 1965 Herb Jager bought it from Bob Stubbs, the price was $2,500 and one kilo of marijuana the quality of which by today's standards was . . . well . . . shitty.    Herb had the Blue Unicorn during its entire hippie heyday.  Stubbs went on to open a head/Indian import shop near the intersection of Haight and Masonic. 

Herb was a musician/political activist/union organizer originally from upstate New York.  He spent much time in the hip community of NYC beginning after he got out of the service in 1949.  By the mid-1960s the new hip scene of the young Haight-Ashbury was a culture he easily fit into.  Although he was the owner, Herb didn't really run the Unicorn, instead he allowed it to develop in step with the surrounding hip culture.  There were almost no rules.  1965 - 1969 was the golden age of the Blue Unicorn . . .  

Herb sold the Blue Unicorn, the transaction becoming final at midnight December 31, 1969.  It went to Jerry and Janet Lane who ran it until the mid 1970s.  The hip culture of the Haight was in serious decline at this time - some likened the Haight to a war-zone.  That, combined with the gradually increasing authoritarian ownership of the Lane's was one of many causes for the Unicorn's downhill slide into little more than a hang-out.  Beat and hip were gone, all that remained was a building in which one could buy coffee.  After the Lane's ownership, the Unicorn went through a succession of owners - none had any real connection with beat or hippie culture, couldn't understand the changes going around them, and by the end of the decade the Unicorn became a mere crash-pad for those with no place to go.  Today a condominium stands at the site. 

Want to know what it was like to hang out there in its heyday?  For the inside dope see the "Stories" section written by the people who were there. 

 

What it looked like

Inside the Unicorn there was not much space.  It was long and narrow, probably sixteen feet wide by thirty-five feet long.  Towards the front were rickety tables and chairs, towards the rear were several rickety booths which held two people comfortably, four uncomfortably.  All tables had candles on them which were not decorative, they were the evening light source.  Graffiti covered everything.  The floor was a hard surface, probably concrete, painted over with battleship gray paint liberated from the naval shipyard.  The ceiling was the high point.  It had been painted in indescribable colors, designs, and wording, which only the most stoned artist of the time could do.  Hopefully in time we will post pics of the Unicorn so keep checking. 

Cast of Characters

Some of the more well-known people who passed through the Blue Unicorn's doors: June Carter with family, Dylan, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, most of the people in "SF Acid Sound" rock bands, and a host of others.  Some of the regulars with more colorful names included: Terre',  Pete the Jeweler, God, Sleepy (a heroin addict), his brother Maniac (a methedrine addict) - *talk about polar opposites*, Tarot Tom, Lone Buffalo, Kilo (the girl), Kilo (the guy), Joe Narc, Beat Malcolm, Piano, Larry the Flute, Airport George, and a host of others.  Many used their given names.   

The Game Players

Several games were very popular in the Blue Unicorn.  Not only were they popular, the Unicorn was home to some of the strongest game players in the United States.  Stay tuned . . . 

Stories

Coming soon!

A Little Etymology . . . 

This is the generally accepted story:

San Francisco Chronicle columnist coins use of term hippie . . .

On September 5, 1965, the first use of the word Hippie appeared in print.  In an article entitled "A New Haven for Beatniks," San Francisco journalist Michael Fallon wrote about the Blue Unicorn coffeehouse using the term hippie to refer to the new generation of Beatniks who had moved from North Beach into the Haight.  Fallon reportedly came up with the name by condensing Norman Mailer's use of the word "hipster" into "hippie."  The name did not catch on in the mass media until almost two years later, after San Francisco columnist Herb Caen began using the term hippies in his daily columns. 

Interesting as it may seem, the above is unfortunately incorrect.  The word 'hippie' had been on the streets and in print much earlier than 1965.  In some African languages a word sounding similar to 'hip' or 'hep' translates roughly as 'to know, to understand.'  The word 'hep' was on our city streets as early as the 1910s and likely much earlier.  By the late 1920s it began to morph into 'hip.'  In 1948 'hippie' was in use, in print.  For the first use of the word in print meaning a street person in the know, see:  Flee the Angry Strangers, Mandel, Thunder's Mouth Press, 1952, p385 (written circa 1948).  Note: hippie should not be confused with 'hipster' but more on that later (maybe).