Caffe Lena
What's new

We'd like to publish the book abroad. Email us if you have ideas!

CLHP is the winner of the Multimedia Award for the book, CD box set, and website.

The NEW YORK TIMES features the Caffè Lena History Project on the cover of the ARTS section!



About the CD Box Set (Tompkins Square, September 2013)

 Order the CD here

Created in partnership with The Magic Shop Recording Studio, the three-CD set features selections from 700 hours of unreleased material recorded between 1963-2013. The tapes reveal extraordinary audio quality and artwork and liner notes with celebrity musician endorsements excerpted from and cross-marketed with the companion coffee table book.Three-time GRAMMY Award-winner Steve Rosenthal is the owner of The Living Room Club. His clients include Coldplay, Bjork, Sheryl Crow, Lou Reed, Sonic Youth, and The Ramones. His Magic Shop facilitates high-quality audio restoration and analog to digital transfer. Projects include: "The Live Wire-Woody Guthrie In Performance 1949," the Rolling Stone Re-Mastered ABKCO Collection, The Alan Lomax Archive Series, the Historic Jelly Roll Morton Library of Congress Recordings, The Sam Cooke Collection, Frank Sinatra at the Sands, and The John Phillips Archive.

The Caffè Lena Folk Music Recordings Project

In 2010 Caffè Lena received a generous donation of archival audio recordings made live at the venue in the early 1960s. This unique collection included hundreds of reel-to-reel recordings of folk music artists like Pete Seeger, Jean Ritchie, and others performing at Caffè Lena at the height of the folk revival. A subsequent nationwide search resulted in our locating several hundred more Caffè Lena recordings. The recordings were beginning to deteriorate and were in urgent need of preservation to ensure their survival.

In 2011 and 2012 the GRAMMY Foundation awarded the Caffè Lena History Project two consecutive grants to organize and preserve over 700 hours of archival recordings made at the venue. We successfully relocated the recordings collection to the The Magic Shop Recording Studio for preservation, where engineers Steve Rosenthal, Doug Bleek, Jessica Thompson, Kabir Hermon and Matt Zedolik have worked their magic to bring these recordings to life!

Caffè Lena Audio Samples

For over five decades (and counting!) Caffè Lena has presented the best in folk, blues, jazz, world, country, bluegrass, storytelling, poetry, theater and everything in between.

- Jerry Jeff Walker - "Mr. Bojangles" (1968)
This rare live 1968 recording brought many in the preservation studio to tears when we first heard it. Jerry Jeff Walker and David Bromberg sound completely comfortable and at ease at Caffè Lena, performing to an audience of admirers who warmly received them, and to Lena whose stage had by this time heard so many great hits of the 1960s-era. We're grateful that this special song was recorded at Caffè Lena in this pure form and can now be preserved.

- Rosalie Sorrels - "Traveling Lady" (1974)
Rosalie Sorrels was first brought to Caffè Lena by the great Hedy West, who encouraged Lena to hire Rosalie sight unseen. We're glad Lena took the risk - Rosalie continued to be one of her top performers and closest friends over many years, staying with her five children with Lena often for months on end and establishing a "second home" in Saratoga Springs, NY. Rosalie has been a road warrior for decades, and this recording shows just why she's been called "The Real McCoy."

- Dave Van Ronk - "He was a friend of mine" (1989)
Beginning in the second week of the Caffè's existence, Dave Van Ronk became a force to be reckoned with both on the Caffè Lena stage and in the folk music community. His influence on countless musicians including Bob Dylan and Christine Lavin as as teacher and mentor cannot be underestimated, and he remained a close friend to Lena until her passing. In the 1989 PBS documentary Dave begins this song by stating, "this was one of Lena's favorites."

- Patty Larkin - "I'm Fine" (1992)
Patty Larkin recalls Lena Spencer as a "Queen Pin" - and a great madame of Saratoga who she would never forget. This recording showcases her signature guitar song, bright and raw on the tiny Caffè Lena stage. Her genuine affection for the room and admiration for Lena seems palpable.

- Patty Larkin - Interview Excerpt (2012)

- Anais Mitchell - "Wedding Song" (2013)
Anais Mitchell performed one of her very first professional gigs on the Caffè Lena stage. As her career has blossomed and her songwriting has evolved, she has returned to the Caffè's stage. This most recent recording in the archives is a true testament to the lasting impact of folk music on todays' generation of songwriters. With thanks to Dylan Till for the audio.

Long Term Preservation and Research Access

The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress will serve as the permanent repository for the original Caffè Lena recordings. The largest archive of traditional culture in the country, The Center currently holds over 100,000 hours of original sound recordings of traditional performances, interviews, and oral histories. Its staff will make listening copies accessible for research.    

Do you have Caffè Lena recordings to share or leads to recordings? Contact us


The GRAMMY Foundation preservation grant program
The Association for Recorded Sound Collections
"Folk Heritage Collections in Crisis - Galvanizing the Preservation of Recorded Folk Collections"

Radio Series

We are exploring avenues for a potential radio series to feature the Caffè Lena recordings and oral history material from the collection.