Caffe Cino’s Atmosphere Grows Dark

Caffe Cino’s Atmosphere Grows Dark

“There was a lot of amphetamine around,” Michael Smith said of Caffe Cino soon before it closed. “It created a desperate atmosphere, and played into Joe Cino’s sense of burnout.” After Freddie Herko leapt to his death a few doors down on Cornelia Street, the scene at the Cino grew increasingly grim. “That colored everything,” playwright William Hoffman said. “That was a big change, and I think Joe Cino never really quite got over it.” Then, in early 1967, Joe’s personal life went off the rails after the death of his boyfriend. “We talk about the great old days, and they really were great old days, but there was an undercurrent that wasn’t so great—namely the violence between Joe Cino and his lover Jon Torrey,” said Hoffman. “He wasn’t always violent, but enough to be a menace. I noticed the great tension between the two, and on occasion I would see Joe was beat up.” Others remember Jon Torrey as a charismatic, beautiful man who looked like a Minoan statue: tall, broad shoulders, and huge eyes, ears, and nose. He could work wonders with wiring, including finding a way to tap into the city’s electrical system to power the storefront theater’s shows for free. Torrey, who would throw himself into everything with wild enthusiasm, died in a work-related accident outside the city on January 5, 1967. Those who knew Torrey could imagine him being careless to the point that the electricity spat back at him, but Cino was convinced it was suicide and descended into a spiral of depression that led to his own suicide.

From Chapter 14 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


Caffe Cino
31 Cornelia St, New York, NY 10014