John Mitchell opened the Gaslight Café in 1958 in a grimy converted coal cellar under a bar, The Kettle of Fish. According to legend, the very low ceiling made it impossible to stand upright in the room so the owner lowered the dirt floor by shoveling it out himself. A combative and determined man, Mitchell played a crucial role in establishing the coffee house as a Greenwich Village countercultural institution and made the Gaslight a showcase for poets and monologists. In 1961, he sold the 110-capacity club to former Mississippi lumber salesman Clarence Hood (whose son Sam later joined his father in the operation) and the entertainment changed to folk music—which could play on until dawn, since the Gaslight served no alcohol.
Bob Dylan began performing at the Gaslight in June 1961, and there he premiered “Masters of War” and “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.” Dave Van Ronk, Mississippi John Hurt, Reverend Gary Davis, Son House, Doc Watson, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Jose Feliciano, John Hammond Jr., and Richie Havens all played the club. The Gaslight closed in 1967 but reopened a year later under new owner Ed Simon; it shut down for good in 1971. The limited edition Bob Dylan album, Live at the Gaslight 1962, was released in 2005.