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Manny Roth, Founder of Village Music Venue Cafe Wha?, Dies at 95

David Lee Roth Plays Cafe Wha?
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You Tube/VanHalenStore.com

GREENWICH VILLAGE — Manny Roth, who founded Cafe Wha?, one of the longest-running music venues in the Village, has died.

Roth's nephew, Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth, mourned his uncle this week on his personal website.

"Uncle Manny has passed away," David Lee Roth wrote, above a black and white photo of the two men laughing together. "He was happy, laughing and smiling right up 'til the end."

Manny Roth was 95 years old when he died July 25, according to Cafe Wha? and his nephew's website.

Cafe Wha?, which helped launch the careers of Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix, has stood at 115 MacDougal St. since Manny Roth founded it in 1960. He sold it about a decade later — reports vary as to exactly when — but a friend of the family bought it back in the late 1980s.

In 2012, Van Halen kicked off the tour for their first album with David Lee Roth since 1984 with a show at Cafe Wha?.

Manny Roth told Billboard at the time that his nephew called him at his home in Ojai, California and asked him to come to the show.

"He woke me up and said, 'Manny, you won't believe this but I came full circle. I'm headlining at the Cafe Wha? and I want you to come,'" Manny Roth told Billboard.

At that point, Roth hadn't set foot in the club in 15 to 20 years.

"I'm not traveling much these days," the elder Roth said, "but then my loved ones all convinced me I should come."

David Lee Roth gave his uncle a shoutout at the performance, recalling his first visit to the club at the age of 7.

"That was the same year my uncle sat on this stage exactly as I stand here in front of you and said, 'Hey, I got a new poet, a new folk singer. His name's Bobby Zimmerman, he needs a place to shack up,'" David Lee Roth said.

Bobby Zimmerman, who later became Bob Dylan, was just one of the many rock 'n' roll greats who played Cafe Wha? in the early days of their career. Jimi Hendrix "wrangled a residency lasting several months" at the club, according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, and was ultimately discovered there while playing with his first band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames.

Bruce Springsteen also played there regularly in 1967 with his early band, the Castiles.

In an interview with BuzzFeed last year, Manny Roth reminisced about having his young nephew at the club.

“David’s father would bring him down when he was 7, 8, 9, 10 years old, and I would give him the royal treatment,” Roth told BuzzFeed. “I used to fix him up with ice cream, whatever he wanted. I didn’t try to turn him onto anything, but maybe it was osmosis." 

And at the Van Halen show at his old club two years ago, Manny Roth gushed with pride over his nephew's performance, Billboard wrote.

"He was phenomenal," Roth told Billboard. "Dave is as good as it gets. He's like a son to me."