Local legend Henry Africa, born Norman Jay Hobday, died February 25, several weeks after falling ill at the downtown bar he's owned for 27 years, Eddie Rickenbacker's (133 2nd Street). He was 77. He legally changed his name after opening the country's first fern bar, Henry Africa's, at the northwest corner of Polk and Broadway in 1969, as the Chron recounts. Decorating the bar on a tight budget, he festooned it with hanging plants, Tiffany lamps, and antiques. As Mr. Africa tells it, "A friend of mine came in and said, 'Well, this is a fuckin' fern bar.' A fern bar it became."
Lately he had been holding court with his cat Higgins on a sofa by the front window of Henry Africa's, after becoming too ill to tend bar. He lived upstairs. "I could go rent a studio apartment and sit there 24 hours a day and watch the paint dry," he said in a recent interview. "I'd rather be here than there."