Why Not Café

Why Not Café

120 Macdougal St, New York, NY 10012


The Why Not Café, located across the street from the more famous Café Wha?, was a typical tourist trap coffeehouse of that era—where future Max’s Kansas City booker Peter Crowley worked in the 1960s, luring in customers off the street.


Peter Crowley Works at a Coffeehouse


Between 1961 and 1964, MacDougal Street was crawling with coffeehouses that catered to the tourists who came downtown on weekends. Peter Crowley—who later booked Debbie Harry’s and Patti Smith’s bands at Max’s Kansas City during the 1970s—ended up working at one of these tourist traps in 1963 after a stint at the Living Theatre. He was walking down MacDougal Street one day and saw a sign on a coffeehouse window that said Drag Wanted. Crowley inquired inside, wondering what in the world that sign meant, and was told, “Oh, we need somebody to stand outside and drag the tourists in.” “Well, I could do that,” he said, so the manager hired him on the spot. There Crowley was, hustling tourists in front of the Why Not Café, across the street from the more famous Café Wha. “The coffeehouses were fake, where you would just drag the tourists in with the sales pitch, almost like a carnival,” he said. “The opposite was done by the manager of the Café Rafio, who would stand out in front. He looked like a Viking with really long red hair and long red beard. He dressed all in black and would glower at the tourists. So having gone past all these places that tried to drag them in, tourists would see this guy standing at the doorway, giving them dirty looks, and they’d say to each other, ‘Oh, this must be the real place,’ and they would go in there.”

From Chapter 4 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore