Robert Otto Borsodi

Died October 29, 2003

College: Timothy Dwight

I didn’t know Bob very well at Choate even though we were in the same class. I got to know him a lot better in New Haven after he and his the wife, Paula, opened up a small coffee house called La Galette in a store front on Howe Street . Back then, coffee houses were a rarity. Although I took it somewhat for granted at the time, La Galette was really a remarkable place. There was always something going on there, a poetry reading, music and always good conversation. I remember fondly and clearly, even gratefully, many of the people I got to know at La Galette. Looking back with a perspective of fifty or more years, I know that I learned more at Bob’s place than I had in many of my classes. The café was much like a living room that was open to all. Bob and Paula were the hosts, and the welcome was personal, not commercial, but somehow they did make enough to keep it going at least until 1962 which was when I left New Haven.

After I left New Haven, I never saw Bob again but I never forgot him. In more recent years, thanks to the Internet I was able to see what he was up to. I learned through the Internet that Bob was a self-described Bohemian. He had become a major counter-culture. The photos of him online show a slender man with a very long gray beard that had grown down almost to his waist, his head bound up in a colorful headband. He had moved around the country for a decade or so before settling in New Orleans for the last 25 years of his life. “Settled down” doesn’t seem appropriately descriptive because he would sometimes leave for several months to hop freights and travel around the county. Mostly though, he ran a coffee shop that sounded as though it was founded on the same principles as La Galette, but now he was doing it in one of America’s most exciting cities. His interests and enthusiasms were once again bringing together writers, painters, musicians, poets, playwrights and actors from all sorts of backgrounds, encouraging them, bringing them to audiences.

At the age of 64, early one morning, before dawn, Bob, worn down by his struggle with a painful and untreatable cancer, got into his blue pickup truck painted with flowers and drove to the Hale Boggs Bridge. He parked, walked out to the middle and jumped into the Mississippi.

As word of his death spread through the city, his friends began posting their feelings about Bob online. An online search for “Bob Borsodi” will take you to appreciative notes that tell how, through his two main interests, hospitality and his poetry, he had enriched their lives and the cultural life of New Orleans. A drama major at Yale, Bob even produced plays in his coffee house. A Tulane professor called him a “unifying force” in New Orleans because in all these things he brought black and white audiences together.

Bob chose a different road to travel but he seems to have traveled it well.

—by Steve “Smokey” Gilford