Insomniac sleeps:The founder of a beat generation icon exits the scene

The Insomniac is captured in blazing glory, in a vintage photo by founder Bob Hare.

Bob Hare made his mark from 1958 to 1963 as owner of Hermosa’s beat-generation Insomniac coffeehouse, where Allen Ginsburg read “Howl,” Sonny Terry wailed the blues and Linda Ronstadt sang folk.

His establishment across the street from the Lighthouse Café served as a creative salon with 50-cent coffee, “the cup that cheers, but not inebriates,” in the words of poet William Cowper that Hare endorsed. The Insomniac stayed open until 3 a.m. for flocks of beats and folkies, poets, musicians and visual artists.

Frank Holmes, who created the cover art and booklet illustrations for The Beach Boys album “Smile,” produced work at The Insomniac. The coffeehouse menu was from a stencil design by an artist named Tweakie, who went on to design the “Alice in Wonderland” teacup ride at Disneyland.

 The Insomniac was part of the happening. In time it grew to sell books and records, and exhibited artworks in a gallery space.

The place was finally closed when city officials used imminent domain to turn it into a parking lot, and Hare moved on to operate the Colonial Inn in Orange County and become a bartender, a counselor and chaplain at Pacific Lodge Boys’ Home in Woodland Hills, and a minister of the Swedenborgian church where he met his wife of 36 years, Karen.

This poster touting The Insomniac was among five such by Earl Newman, who has for decades designed posters for the Monterey Jazz Festival.

On Dec. 17 the Hares, both 80, talked about how they would probably live into their 90s. Then two days later, at the couple’s home in Glendora, Bob slipped away.

“We had breakfast, and he said, ‘I’m tired. I think I’ll go back to bed,’” Karen said.

Soon she went back to the bedroom to hang around with her husband, billing and cooing as they liked to do.

“I felt his hands and they were ice cold. I felt his face and it was ice cold,” she said.

She verified that he was not breathing. He had passed away. The phone wasn’t working, so she called out to a neighbor, who hurried over and stayed with Karen until the paramedics arrived.

“It was a shock,” she said. “It was absolutely unexpected.”

“It has not been easy,” she said. “Our faith believes that we pass into a spiritual world, we are not really dead. But it’s only natural to cry.”

No public services were planned, but Hare’s ashes will be scattered at sea in early January.

“If they like, people could say a silent prayer, or whatever,” Karen said.

Hare founded The Insomniac after coming to Hermosa from Seal Beachto see a production of Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, he told Easy Reader’s Eric Vollmer in 2007. Hare drew parallels between the play about the Salem witch trials and the hearings into “un-American activities” by U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy. Hare popped into the Lighthouse to hear some jazz, and popped back out again.

“I saw this Hudson Shoe Store with a ‘for lease’ sign in the window and everything in my life came into focus,” he said. Three weeks later I was opening a new coffeehouse in Hermosa Beachand calling it The Insomniac because we were the only place in town open ‘til 3 a.m.”

Hare met Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl and Buster Keaton. He listened to luminaries including Ginsberg, Lord Buckley, Dave Van Ronk and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott hold forth on his stage. The Chamber Brothers sang the 11-minute classic “Time Has Come Today” for the first time inside The Insomniac.

A teenage Ronstadt served coffee at The Insomniac and sang when she could.

 This poster touting The Insomniac was among five such by Earl Newman, who has for decades designed posters for theMontereyJazz Festival.

Bob Hare (right) with Earl Newman and Michael Riley.

Karen Hare, a singer who performed with Ernie Ford and toured with Harry Belafonte, recalled The Insomniac fondly, and bemoaned its eventual submission to the bulldozer.

“It was heartbreaking that this lovely old town didn’t recognize that building for what it was, instead of turning it into a parking lot,” she said.

“The city ought to be ashamed of itself for doing that to Bob,” she said.  Still, the demise of Hare’s coffeehouse “was about the only bad thing that ever happened to him,” she said.

“He became lots of things. He was a man of many hats,” she said. “He was a chaplain at the boys’ home, and many of the boys came back to have Bob marry them. Bob did the service and I sang.”

Hare was born inIowa, received a bachelor’s degree in English from Cal State Long Beach and served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War.

In 2009 Hare returned to Hermosa for a celebration of The Insomniac, thrown by the Hermosa Beach Historical Society in its Community Center museum.

The presentation included a lecture on “Poetry and Politics in the Insomniac Era” by Colin Campbell, musings on Insomniac history, music and poetry by Hare, an “old Hermosa beatnik slideshow” by Brian Chidester of Dumb Angel Magazine, and a tribute to “The Mouse that Roared” author Leonard Wibberly.

Hare spoke of Tweakie, and of Earl Newman, who has designed posters for the Monterey Jazz Festival since 1963, and designed five posters for The Insomniac.

And Hare recited some couplets in a reading that can be viewed on a Youtube channel created by www.Poetry.LA.

“It was a jewel, it really was” Hare says of The Insomniac. “I was proud of it.” ER

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