No Exit Café
Third Owner: Peter Steinberg
by Susan Kozin
"It's a magical place, a place that will grab by the scruff of the neck and not let go." I am trying to explain the Exit to customers who are new to the place. "Not everyone will see it that way. They will come in have coffee and leave, they don't get it. The Exit grabbed me in '68, it took me 31 years to shake the grasp."
The No Exit Café/Gallery began in Evanston, in September 1958 by two Northwestern University students, Bill Harmon and Dick McKernan. Housed in a narrow store front next to the Foster L station, No Exit became the hang out for the beat generation college student. Word is that Sorority girls could be deplegded if they were seen in the cafe. No Exit was called a beatnik coffeehouse, but the economic and social diversity could be well noted with the clientele.
About three months after the cafe opened, Joe Moore was hired to run the cafe. After nine months Joe bought out Harmon and McKernon. Joining the college student crowd were the racing crowd, the writers like Frank Robinson and the folk singers like Art Thieme, Dodi Kallack, and Judy Bright. In the following years singers like, Steve Goodman, Harry Wailer, Michael Smith, Claudia Schmidt, Christy Moore, Blues man Jim Brewer, Pat Clinton, Couple a Fat Guys, Jim Craig and so many more have graced the stage.
Brian Kozin started hanging out in 1961 during the hay day of the Joe Moore ownership. During the early 60s the espresso was hot and the Jazz was cool. Ira Sullivan led a jazz combo on Saturday afternoon's. Brian also remembers one night after Jim Brewer finished his set, he needed a ride back to the west side. Brian offered to take him in Joe Moore's car. Joe asked if Brian could drive. "Sure I can drive." Brian replied. Several month later Brian came into the No Exit and proudly showed off his new drivers license. "I thought you had a license," exclaimed Moore. "No, you asked if I could drive," was Kozin's retort.
No Exit opened at Lunt Avenue and Glenwood Avenue on December 7th, 1967. It didn't take long for a whole lot of new regulars to join the old one's. Sue Kozin was one of them. "I moved up from the far south side town of Harvey because I was told of this great coffeehouse opening up" said Sue. "It took me a couple of months of peering in the door before I walked in." By spring I was waiting tables Thursday nights and Steve Goodman was the entertainment. 1968 was a year of politics and demonstrations. The '68 Democratic convention and the protest riots against the Vietnam War became a hot topic around the regulars table. No Exit was a polling place and Rogers Park was then part of the regular Democratic machine. The room became even more enriched with tie-dyed Hippies interspersed with the business types. Everyone seemed to coexist. No Exit settled into music, chess, and car racing.
In 1972, Joe Moore and his wife Joanne decided to buy an old resort in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. He then sold No Exit to Peter Steinberg, his long time manager. The first thing Steinberg did was to get rid of the racing crowd and throw a chair through the trophy case. This was Steinberg's gesture of freedom. The Japanese game of G0 replaced chess. Mathematicians and computer programmers replaced the race car drivers. Folk music was still the staple part of the culture. Times were good and there were many venues on Chicago for music. No Exit prospered through the efforts of many artists who were working for the satisfaction of the performance. Howard Berkman, Art Thieme, and Dan Kedding and Roxanne Kedding, Mike Dougal, and Al Day became featured performers. The gallery space was also in use by new area artists. Ned Broderick and Pete Peterson, returning Vet Nam vet's displayed works both humorous and grim views of life and war.
Brian and Sue Kozin purchased No Exit from Peter Steinberg in April 1977. For Sue this was a realization put into motion some seven years earlier. "The one thing Joe Moore did was to educate me in the right and wrong ways to run a coffeehouse." according to Sue. Brian seconded that statement. We took our time and returned the cafe back to the vintage 50s and 60s. We retained singers like Art Thieme and Howard Berkman, and added the talent of Michael Smith, Suzy Boggus, Rosalie Sorels, Pat McDonald (who later headed the group Timbuk 3) and Andrew Calhoun to give a short list. Jazz was re-instituted on Saturday and Sunday afternoons with Bob Dogan, Jennie Lambert, Merle Boley, Doug Lofstrom, and tradition was kept alive with Mike Finnerty and Mike Linn. Improv theatre was also instituted with Let's Have Lunch in the 80s and Bang Bang Spontaneous Theatre now in it's eighth year. Bang Bang was one of many spring boards to send talent to Hollywood movie and TV land.
The Kozin's managed the coffeehouse and raised three ids in the process. According to Brian they have met everyone from rocket scientist to murders. "With our son David being the first, we have had some 23 children born to the regular's over the years" mentioned Sue. At the beginning of the holiday season every year No Exit hosted a Thanksgiving potluck dinner the last Sunday of November. This gave Brian and Sue a chance to relax and spend time with the customers, musicians and friends around No Exit. This tradition lasted the whole 22 years of the Kozin ownership.
The decor was a eclectic as it's customers. Either there were too many plants and some were donated, or a person was moving and didn't need the Elk antlers. A painting of James Dean was left one day. An Armadillo was the gift of a waitress. The library of text books came from many students. The paperback book library was take one bring one back. There was a student doing his Cultural Anthropology paper on the No Exit. He spent a week cataloging everything in the cafe.
In 1983 a building was bought and volunteers built a new and permanent No Exit Cafe. The building bought was an old gentlemen's card playing club, The Sherman Bridge Club, and they didn't play bridge and no women were allowed. For several years after the move, Cadillacs, and Lincoln Continentals would drive slowly by looking for the bridge club. "We tried to change the decor, and brighten the place" according to Brian. "But the customers stayed away until the burlap and curio's went back on the walls."
Like any thing else you do for twenty years, there comes a time to stop. For the Kozin's it was the years of no vacations and the children growing up. It was time to pack it up. Lesley Kozin tried to keep the cafe open one more year, but it proved too much for her. "We made it look too easy" said Sue "There's so much that's not seen. The prep work and shopping and bills to pay the people to hire and train. It takes time." No Exit closed June 30, 1999. Brian took some offers, nothing serious until Michael James and Katy Hogan (Heartland Cafe) came along. No Exit had been saved, and reopened February 24, 2000.