Tonight was like a book or a movie plot, as if Rod Serling himself was standing in the corner of the room smoking a cigarette talking about us in hushed tones.
This Manhattan fairy tale started innocently enough, with a piece of paper shoved under the door of our room at the Hotel Edison. The building still has many touches left over from it’s heyday which started with Prohibition well underway in 1931, and well, I’m getting a little ahead of myself…
So Callie and Rusty and I had been talking about getting some grub after a long day when this slip of paper came under the door. Callie was standing right there when it happened, and she even opened the door and nobody was in sight down the long corridor. But that didn’t seem remarkable…
So anyway, this slip of paper was drawn or printed on bright yellow paper. A real attention getter!
So we decided to check it out–you know, some authentic New York night life, and after all, they said they had food. So we walked down to Sofia’s, a slightly upscale looking Italian place. We walked right in like we knew what we were doing, but for some reason the maître d’ seemed skeptical. Now I think he saw the yellow paper, but I don’t know. So the guy says, “youse don’t wanna be here, you’re looking for downstairs”. So he directed us to a small, narrow unmarked black steel door with a deadbolt lock, tucked away in the foyer of the restaurant. Looked for all the world like a mop closet. We walked past it twice looking for the right door, and it was Callie who walked over to the door and gave it a tug. What happened after that, I scarcely believe myself, and I was there! We found a wide set of gaudily carpeted stairs going steeply down into the basement of this old hotel.
What we found was a pretty large club-type room, with lots of tables with white linen table cloths and a big dance floor and an empty bandstand. People started to gather–an interesting group of young and old, some dressed casually, but many dressed the part of Manhattan socialites, quite an interesting mix.
So Rusty and Callie and I talked about lots of things, including how this room was almost certainly a speakeasy in that era…
And then the band assembled and started to play…
I don’t know if they spiked my drinks, or if we just walked around too much during the day, but I started feeling woozy, you know–not really bad, just a little fuzzy. That’s when I started really looking around, and wondered if I was really where I thought I was. Before long, to coin a phrase, the joint was jumping. A broadway hoofer stopped by and just started tap dancing like crazy! He was great! Do people still do that? Next thing you know, this guy named Sol Yaged stopped by and played the licorice stick. Sol Yaged? He was playing clarinet in the 1930s! Professionally since probably ’42!
He played in all the legendary jazz clubs like Jimmy Ryan’s, the Metropole, the original Birdland, Jimmy Weston’s, the Onyx club, the Three Deuces and a bunch of others. He played opening night at Birdland, lending Charlie Parker his clarinet so Bird could sit in at Arthur’s Tavern on 7th Avenue! And now he’s in this basement speakeasy!
So the night is young, and out of the audience steps the legendary pianist Ed Clute to pound out a red hot version of Sweet Georgia Brown! Ed has been performing professional jazz and bluegrass for over 30 years, and has even written a few songs. So naturally he’s sitting in the audience and agrees to play with the band!
So this just goes on and on
There were a bunch of couples really tearing up the dance floor, some of them were pretty clearly professional dancers. They were dancing the Charleston!
So I looked up and Rusty had disappeared. Never saw him again…
and I walked up the steps and walked out, blinking in the harsh electric lights. For a minute I was sure I saw this:
But then I realized that it was late, and that I probably imagined it. But I did go back to that door the next day and it was locked.