A look back at New York’s changing nightlife
by Robert Amoroso
November 8, 2007
How many times have we heard this sentiment…”the more things change, the more they remain the same”? Not exactly an original thought. In all probability you have (at some point) in your life uttered those same exact or close enough words yourself, and if one lives long enough you begin to realize first hand just how true that statement becomes. Every generation claims for itself its own identity, its own space, and in so doing, the landscape of this fabulous city once again changes.
Last week was one of those rare moments, when I unexpectedly brushed up against my own past, it was an uneventful moment, and it almost passed unnoticed. It was a drizzly overcast morning, and I had decided that this would be a perfect time to clean out my old closet. You know the one, where you store all your old useless “stuff”.
Stuff that you’ll never use again, but for some strange and bizarre reason, you just can’t let it go…Lord knows I’ve tried. Anyway as I was going through my stuff, I came across an old folded, lipstick smeared cocktail napkin, you know the kind, the one that the server brings with your favorite adult beverage. It was neatly folded, as if anticipating our reunion.
I wasn’t sure exactly what it was until I turned it over, there in a beautiful script typeface “The Living Room”. Within moments, those words beckoned me back to another place and time, and I began to recall that cozy little supper club that my lady and I frequented repeatedly. It was located at Second Avenue around 44th Street. It was a small little intimate place, and few if any tourists knew of its existence.
The stage (if one can call it that) was nothing more then a tiny raised platform, which could accommodate at best three to four, performers at once. The small circular tables that dotted the club were designed for couples only. The casual yet classy atmosphere was part of its charm and the by-words were intimate, dark and smoky.
The legendary Arthur Prysock with his commanding presence and his smooth-as-silk baritone voice was a frequent headlining act. He would cast a magic spell over his guests as he sang his signature song “Unchained Melody”. After his performance, he would usually mingle with the audience; his understated southern charm was always present. Of course, there were other better-known nightspots and by far more popular clubs then “The Living Room”; however, this was by far my favorite place.
However, the most popular and infamous of all the nightspots in the 60’s was the world famous “Copacabana” located at 10 East 60th Street. Unlike “The Living Room”, the Copa was a sprawling nightclub that could seat hundreds of patrons, and boasted world class acts, the likes of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Nat King Cole. “Infamous” in that the Copa was a favorite meeting place for many a “wiseguy”.
“Basin Street East” on 137 East 48th Street, was another popular nightspot that catered more to a slightly offbeat audience that enjoyed Jazz, and Blues. I recall one cold winter evening listening to a beautiful blond and bedecked Peggy Lee singing in that low sexy breathy voice of hers “Fever”.
The west side of Manhattan also had its share of incredible nightspots, “The Latin Quarter” much like the “Copacabana” was a spacious and brassy club, best known for its elaborate Vegas style stage productions. It was located in the heart of Times Square at 2551 Broadway. Of course, if an elaborate stage production wasn’t for you, you could always walk a few short blocks to the legendary “Metropole” at 7th Avenue and 48th Street, where you might catch the last set with Dizzy Gillespie, or share a few drinks in the wee hours of the morning with Gene Krupa.
However, if you were looking for something a little more casual and perhaps a little more avant-garde you might want to take the “A” train down to lower Manhattan. The clubs in the Village catered to a slightly younger less formal crowd. The most popular was “The Village Gate” it was located at 185 Thompson Street, and you could usually catch the likes of either Harry Belafonte or Joan Biase singing folk songs, and of course protesting our involvement in Viet Nam.
Trudy Heller’s was another popular hot spot in lower Manhattan, It also featured notable performers, vocalists like Morgana King, and guitarist Jim Hall. However much like Studio 54 (years later), Trudy Heller’s was really a dance hall, and on any given night you could rub shoulders with up and coming young celebrities such as Brooklyn’s own Barbara Streisand.
Of course, there were other notable nightspots such as “The Copter Lounge” perched high above the city offering a breathtaking view of Manhattan’s skyline. Outside its large bay windows (as its name implied) was a landing zone for helicopters. It was wonderful and intimate little club.
If clubbing wasn’t your scene there was always “Jack Dempsey’s. A tiny two-room Italian-American restaurant made famous by the world champ. It was located at 344 West 46th Street.
Danny's Hideaway located at 151 East 45th Street was another favorite restaurant of mine. It started out as a one-room bistro seating six, and within the following decade expanded to a four-story building, with 11 dining rooms, with two separate kitchens and two completely stocked bars on each floor. It was the place to be seen. I recall one cool October evening a smiling Mickey Mantel with a bevy of blonds strolling in and quickly being ushered out-of-sight, to the VIP Room. Hours later he emerged, slightly inebriated, signed a few autographs and left, later that day playing in the playoffs at Yankee Stadium he went 0 for 4.
Most, if not all of these legendary, nightspots no longer exist; they’re memories tucked away, perhaps a souvenir photo in a folder, or a pressed carnation in a scrapbook, or in my case a neatly folded cocktail napkin in a cardboard box of “stuff”.
Yet, the wonderful thing about this incredible town is that no matter how much things change, they always remain the same, and while generations may come and go, each of us has a story to tell…the landscape may change, however, the magic of this city never wears thin.
published in BrooWaha New York
Copyright © 2007 Robert Amoroso