John Leech, founder of Onyx Cafe, passes away

This came to my inbox.

If anyone knows who took this photo, please let me know in the comments
If anyone knows who took this photo, please let me know in the comments

John Leech, the founder of the Onyx Cafe in Silverlake/Los Feliz/Echo Park and beloved patron of the arts and truth in general has passed away.

It apparently happened around Monday or Tuesday March 17th or 18th and has been confirmed by the County Coroner. He apparently has no family but he has a trust and its executors have been notified. There is a votive memorial in front of the former location of the Onyx on Vermont Avenue (now Cafe Figaro) in Los Feliz. Initial planning for a fitting memorial to John has begun. More on that soon.

John was one of the rarest things in this world: a genuine philosophical Bohemian in the very best sense of the word who created an austere unpretentious Cafe which was, by his design, a magical safe zone for artists, musicians, poets, scientists, intellectuals and outsiders of all stripes…

… What was most unusual about him was that John had the backbone to truly stick up for freedom of expression and freedom of conscience while a fascist Reaganistic culture rampaged everywhere without. He was one of the secret great Americans who keep the true lamp of liberty burning in the midnight…even though he was English.

He provided a genuine refuge from the hollow prevarications of a culture that had largely accepted the fatuous greed, corruption and pillage ideology of the Reaganauts, and he kept it vital for a good long string of years because he considered it culturally necessary – a duty even. He never tried to cash-in on any of it yet he provided a free and supportive venue for literally hundreds of local artists who may have lacked other means, a fair number of whom went on to fame and fortune. They just don’t make people like John Leech any more. They hardly ever did. His passing is a great loss to culture and the arts in Los Angeles.

Peace be upon him.

5 Replies to “John Leech, founder of Onyx Cafe, passes away”

  1. Sad news indeed. I was fortunate enough to frequent The Onyx in all is locations and had the privilege of showing there in the early nineties. It is sorely missed, as John will be.

  2. Sad sad news. Happily, he and Cafe will not be forgotten. Just a few months ago, S.A. Griffin organized a 10 year Onyx reunion at the Tribal Cafe that brought back together many of the artists, poets, and musicians that held court at there. After all these years, I still won’t go into Figaro out of respect to the Onyx after loosing that space 10 years ago.

    Once upon a time in Los Angeles, an espresso was a rarefied thing. (Yes, there was a time before there was a Starbucks on every corner.) A time when if you wanted to find a strong cup of coffee, hang your art on the wall, and rock an open mic meant going to Pasadena’s E-Bar, or coming here, to The Onyx. With the Onyx Cafe, Fumiko Robinson and John Leech gave LA’s underground scene a chance to crawl out and see the light of day. Los Angeles’ cafe culture started here, and Leech’s contribution to art, coffee, poetry, and music lives on in the lives that passed through that narrow Vermont Avenue storefront. Rest In Peace, and thanks for the memories. I’ll tip better next time.

  3. As a frequent frequenter of the Onyx in all three or four incarnations, I sadly acknowledge that an era has truly ended, though some have picked up the torch.

    Not to be a stickler for my nostalgia or anything, but isn’t that location #2 in the pic? Anyone have a pic of location #1, next to the Vista when it was still the Onyx?

  4. Yes, that’s location #2, which was the best knwn and longest lived.

    I’ve got a shot somewhere that appeared in the Reader (I think)of the Vista location. I’ll have to find it and scan it.

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