Three cafes that Dylan played at during his early days in the village were:


1. Gerde's Folk City


2. The Cafe Wha


3. The Gaslight Cafe. See also some other links: here, here, and here


As the DVD, "No Direction Home" suggests, these places were former beat hangouts, places where poetry and other theatrical arts were constantly on display. As the "folkies" joined the scene they brought an earnestness about the music, trying to keep it pure, "true" and faithful to its roots. Commercial folk music--the Kingston Trio, The Limelighters and the Brothers Four, etc.--had been around for some time with groups like these playing in nightclubs and on college campuse; but these Greenwhich Village folkies were going much deeper, finding the soul and sometimes the radical roots of the music originating in labor union activites as it often was. Much more became known about early American folk music when Harry Smith put out his 6-LP collection called The Antohology of American Folk Music in 1952. Blues, jazz, Appalachian country music, field-hollers, etc. could be heard here while the Smithsonian and Folkways records were also doing their part to bring this kind of music to listeners' ears. Musicians like John Cohen, Mike Seeger and others mined these collections for "authentic" tunes to play in the coffee houses and open air venues. See and listen to the NPR story here. Towards the bottom of this story, there is an interesting interview with Greil Marcus about the "Basement Tapes" and the influence of this anthology on Bob Dylan.


For more on the folk club scene and the Sunday folk music scne in Washington Square see: