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Tom Guido's Purple Onion
1993 - 1999 R.I.P.

140 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, California

 

Map of where Purple Onion was in SF

 

by Beth Loudmouth Allen / Rocktober 2018


I recently came across a blog post titled “Our shrine to the Tom Guido era of The Purple Onion - the greatest live music venue that ever existed...” and it brought back a flood of memories. After all, I had spent most of my weekend nights at this tiny basement club in San Francisco’s North Beach between 1993-1999, hanging out seeing bands or playing there with my band at the time, The Loudmouths. For many of us regulars, it was depressing when things at the nightclub eventually fell apart and Tom became occasionally homeless. It was the end of an era.

Then and Now

One must remember that the 90s were PRE-facebook, a time when cell phones were only used by business people or yuppies and life wasn’t documented 24/7 online they way it is now. I didn’t even have a cell phone myself until the early 2000s! I know there are a few videos out there, some recordings of live shows, (The Trashwomen, The Count Backwards, Bomboras, for example) and a Jack Saints CD with added bonus track “Live Riot at the Famous Purple Onion 1997” that beautifully captures Tom Guido in prime form (ie: ranting and raving), saving a slice of the PO “experience” forever.

 

Smothers BrothersVacant for a few years until Tom Guido resurrected the space in 1993, the Purple Onion had been a comedy club and popular SF tourist destination from 1957-1989. The Kingston Trio, Phyllis Diller, Lenny Bruce, Bob Newhart, Richard Pryor, and Jim Nabors (among many other big names) had all descended the steps and entertained the 80 or thereabouts capacity underground room. Tom paid tribute to 140 Columbus’ history with a Smothers Brothers LP propped up behind the bar. This pop culture past, along with pink puffy tuck and roll table booths, and sparkley tinsel streaming behind the miniscule stage made the place an iconic backdrop for the real star of every show — Tom Guido himself.

 

TomIt’s hard to imagine Tom Guido’s Purple Onion having a presence on facebook or instagram... it makes it cooler that it didn’t. In it’s sparsely documented glory, most of what took place has become a “What happened at the Purple Onion, stays at the Purple Onion,” black hole. A whirlwhind of crazy drunken nights, seven or so years of epic garage and punk shows raging underground, wild events drenched in absolute chaos fueled by the boisterous one-man management — it was a rock-n-roll rollercoaster and a remarkable feat that the fun lasted as long as it did. And we have Tom Guido to thank for it all. Thank you Tom!

 

Inspired by the above-mentioned blog post I came across, I asked my old bandmates from the Loudmouths, along with some other rockin’ friends “who were there,” to share some of their Purple Onion memories. Read our stories to get a taste of what Tom Guido’s Purple Onion was like. This is by no means comprehensive, just a slice of the fun times that some of us remember. And so you have it. Enjoy the ride!

The Loudmouths

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Tom Guido: Get Out!