The Cabale Creamery

By Sandy Rothman

It was on San Pablo Avenue, a main north-south thoroughfare parallel to Telegraph on the opposite (west) side of town, at the southwest corner of Dwight Way and San Pablo. I don't recall how "Creamery" got attached to it -- maybe from the steamed milk that was in the cappuccinos and lattes? The name "Cabale" was taken from "Cabala," a medieval system of Jewish mysticism. (Other dictionary definitions are: "a traditional, esoteric, occult, or secret matter" and "an esoteric doctrine or mysterious art." Do any of those terms resonate with bluegrass, nearly a cult in itself?! Hahaha.)

One of the Cabale's founders was Rolf Cahn, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany who had served in the US Army during the war and also played and taught classical, flamenco, and folk guitar. Bluegrass was scheduled only occasionally at the Cabale, but on the other hand, it was the only club in Berkeley where it was presented at all during that period (1963-4). The usual entertainment at the Cabale included local musicians and quite a few travelling "folk individuals" from the more developed Cambridge folk scene. (The similarity between the Cabale's monthly calendar and that of Cambridge's Club 47 may have been an inspiration for Rick Shubb's placement of Berkeley and Cambridge as next-door neighbors in his legendary "Humbead's Revised Map of the World" poster which may be viewed in the book "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down" by Von Schmidt & Rooney). Physically, the Cabale was a fairly small, long and narrow, dark room with the ambience of a '50s Beat coffeehouse. Coffee drinks were made at the far end of the room. When the Colonels played there the stage was against the long wall on the north side of the room (the right side as you walked in); later, it was on the short wall just inside and to the right of the entrance.

I doubt that the Cabale existed much beyond the following year, 1965. Around that time a folk club got started called the Jabberwock; this was on Telegraph Avenue (at the corner of Russell, near Ashby), in the site of the former jazz club Tsubo's where the Montgomery Brothers had been the house band. Jazz radio station KJAZ-FM was in the same small building. The Jabberwock's monthly entertainment roster was roughly the same as at the Cabale, with blues and folk and occasional bluegrass. A similar format was carried over to the original Freight and Salvage coffeehouse (formerly Frank's Shoe Repair, which some of us wanted to name the folk club) when it began in 1968, as folk music in Berkeley found its way back to San Pablo Avenue (near Hearst), where it still remains -- a much less mystical and more professional incarnation in its second location (on Addison just off San Pablo) ...