New Yorker Who Invented the Fern Bar Dies


Norman Jay Hobday, the man credited with inventing the leafy breed of swinging singles bar called the “fern bar,” died last week at the age of 77 in San Francisco. Originally from upstate New York, Hobday ended up in San Francisco after the Korean War. There he opened Henry Africa’s. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, he had little money to spruce the place up, so he filled it with hanging plants, and it became known as the world’s first fern bar.

Last year’s tiki renaissance led Washington Post booze writer Jason Wilson to ask whether a fern bar revival could be very far off. He wrote:

Are we soon to see trendy urban bars themed to look like the Regal Beagle, Jack Tripper’s swinging hangout in the 1970s sitcom Three’s Company? Why not? We’ve already lived through the speak-easy revival and the tiki bar revival.

Sadly or not, the fern bar remains a distant, fuzzy memory — in New York, at least. But prospective bar owners looking for the next fad might want to take note: We already have bars with rooftop and backyard gardens. So, why not bring some of that green inside, trade in those tiki Hawaiian shirts for some good ol’ polyester, and see what sort of convoluted, sexually suggestive mishaps we can get ourselves into.