Arts Listings

Le Bateau Ivre Celebrates 35 Years

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Friday March 02, 2007

Le Bateau Ivre—“The Drunken Boat”—that unique coffee house, restaurant and bar will celebrate its 35th anniversary Monday with a special musical program in the recently inaugurated (and very eclectic) Monday night art performance series: Dazzling Divas, operatic arias and duets by Verdi, Puccini, Mozart, Bizet, Charpentier and others, sung by Bay Area favorites Pamela Marie Connelly, Tara Generalovich, Kathleen Moss, Eliza O’Malley and MaryAnne Stanislaw, accompanied by Jonathan Alford, piano. Admission is free. 

The divas are familiar faces from the stages of Berkeley Opera, Oakland Opera Theater, SF Lyric Opera, The Lamplighters, Pocket Opera, Opera San Jose and the American Musical Theater of San Jose, as well as bigger houses like the SF and LA Operas and New York City Opera. 

Jonathan Alford’s credits include performances at Zellerbach, with the Oakland Ballet and both onstage and in the recording studio with many top names in jazz and Latin music. 

Since its inception this New Year’s Day, the new Monday night series has featured performances ranging from Klezmer and Bluegrass to Sicilian and French cafe music. 

Thomas Cooper and Arlene Giordano opened their establishment on March 5, 1972, after Cooper had walked in an open side door one day the previous fall out of curiosity, saying to himself, “it would be a nice coffee house.” 

Cooper, from an old East Kentucky family, had come to the Bay Area after seven years in Europe, on his way to Japan, but stayed on in Berkeley. “I’d always fantasized about opening a coffee house,” he said, “but it was never a very solid thought. I’d listen to Vivaldi mandolin music and daydream about it.” 

The daydream became a reality as they began to restore the neglected building. “A couple of brothers owned it, who had got into drugs,” Cooper recalled. “It was almost torn down. One guy we had come in to take a look said it was like the Viet Cong had hit it.”  

Originally a home built by a Frenchman in 1898, the building sported architectural features like a porch supported by four semi-nude female caryatids—until the 1906 Quake. It was renovated twice more before the Second World War. The fireside room in the back, where performances are held, was built of brick in 1940. “It was used as a small theater in the ‘40s,” said Cooper. “When we were restoring it, we sealed in the curtain. Strangely, that’s just where musical groups today want to stand.” Cooper and Giordano bought the building in 1976. 

The name came when Cooper told a French friend that he, once a merchant seaman out of the Mediterranean, was thinking of calling the new coffee house The Boat. “‘Why not add ‘Drunken’ to it? ‘Bateau Ivre’,” she said. Both forms of the name stuck, the Coopers using the English version of Rimbaud’s poem title increasingly since 1995. “It’s easier for people. I’ve heard it called The Ivory Boat ... or The Drunken Goat!” 

“We continue to work on it,” Cooper said. “Arlene’s constantly searched out furniture and decor since the beginning. Everything in the building’s been redone, but we try to maintain it as it was, maintain the beauty of the building. We’re its custodians. And it’s essentially the same place it was when we opened. It’s not dated, but has taken on a certain patina after 35 years. It fits our taste. We fixed it up, but tried to keep it simple, down to earth. A simple-hearted yet refined ambiance.” 



Le Bateau Ivre’s 35th Anniversary 

Monday, March 5 

open 6-10 p.m., performance 7-9 p.m. 

2928 Telegraph Ave., 849-1100