Historic Caffe Mediterraneum Dead at 60; Berkeleyans Mourn, Struggle to Maintain Coffeehouse Ties

by Steed Dropout
Nov. 28, 2016

Photo by Ted Friedman.

By the time you read this in the papers, one of Berkeley’s links to the turbulent ’60s will be dead.

Death came, peacefully, with the dying Med surrounded by close family and friends.

Among the dead was a mob of dead
Medheads, who died before they had to say goodbye to their beloved hangout.

Founded in 1956 (for a year as the Piccolo), the Med was both a witness to its times and a participant. The Black Panthers regularly met in the mezzanine office of the Med owners. A lot of tear gas has gone down over the years, and recently during a demo two years ago, which mimicked the 1969 People’s Park riots on Telegraph Avenue. People’s Park organizers considered the Med their headquarters, as did the Free Speech Movement.

Activists continued to meet at the Med.

The Med’s lurid past includes shootings, stabbings, and tales so bizarre only this reporter would dare report them. (He has documented some of the insanity in more than twenty “Med Tales”).

Sorting out the Med’s claims to glory presents challenges. The Med claims to have invented the Caffe Latte on the West Coast. And that Allen Ginsberg wrote “Howl” at the Med.

Med owner Craig Becker acknowledges that Ginsberg could not have written “Howl” in the Med, but kept the urban legend alive as a marketing tool.

Legends could not save the Med from whatever ailed it.

Surely Foucault was a Medhead on his sabbatical here that proved fatal.

It is likely Jack Kerouac coffeed at the Med.

Sartre would have liked the opportunity to speak (“conversation becomes difficult when others insist on speaking”).

A short list of claimed Med Patrons of note includes: Patty Hearst,Ted (Unabomber) Kaczynski, Eric Ericsson, Dustin Hoffman, and Mario Savio. But to those of us who loved them, our friends, are notables, too.

Putting aside the bottom line, the Med seemed to be still drawing crowds when it died. You could say it died doing what it loved.

Symptoms of the Med’s impending death had been obvious as Medheads witnessed its slowly crumbling infrastructure. A crack in the wall revealing brick, went un-repaired as did a cracked glass door which wouldn’t close.

Owner Craig Becker hoped to pass along the costs of fixing his property. The cost was high (upwards of $250,000). Med scuttlebutt held that Becker would never find a buyer willing to accept such debt, but he did.

For the Med survivors, concerns have turned to survival strategies, like where will I find my Medhead friends?

Many Medheads will stake out tables at Peet’s, a mere half-block from the Med, while awaiting a brand new coffee shop to open by June or sooner in the re-built Shakespeare’s Books site.

An ideal coffee house space is for rent at Mad Monk, just across the avenue from the Med.

One Medhead couple plans to occupy the new Med. “What have we got to lose?” they say.

The new owners are not saying what will become of the Med, except that it will be a restaurant. But the Med is dead, its immortality to be determined.

View 150 Caffe Mediterraneum photos: scroll down @ https://www.facebook.com/ted.friedman.56

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