I’m a great one for far-out ideas. Fortunately, most of them never happen. But several years ago, I came up with a doozy: a cabaret at Curley’s Diner, just what the city needed. Cabarets are a relatively new phenomenon in urban history, developing first in Paris in the 1880s as a place for artists, writers and musicians to gather and share ideas. It’s hard to imagine French art from Toulouse-Lautrec to Picasso without these hangouts. During World War I, many artists fled to neutral Switzerland and it was at the Café Voltaire in Zurich that the DADA movement (Futurism and Surrealism) began. When cabaret came to Germany, it took on a darker, anti-establishment character and in Weimar days was a venue for social criticism and dissent.
I (in a moment of madness) decided what Stamford needed was a cabaret and what better place than Curley’s Diner, a funky 24/7 mix of high and low and everything in between. After all, their once a week “poetry night” had become a big success, providing one of the few places in Fairfield County where poets could try out their work in front of a supportive audience. Sure, there were other venues: church basements, bookstores, but none had Curley’s atmosphere (and coffee.) Why not a cabaret? The place was usually empty Friday night (the crowd appears after midnight) and the sisters who owned the place seemed amenable.
Finding performers (for free) turned out to be the easiest part. My lawyer friend Glenn, a former magician and tarot card reader agreed to be M.C. (Joe Grey style), a couple of musicians I knew said they would perform, the owner’s daughter, a wanna-be café singer said she was definitely “in” and I was persuaded to do my Marlene Dietrich imitation (I’m even more off-key than she was.) The top attraction was going to be a “Stella” contest run by a friend from New Orleans. The competitors all call out “Stella” and the one who sounds most like Marlon Brando in Streetcar Named Desire wins.
Everyone I mentioned the cabaret to was eager to come. “Please don’t forget us.” Friends from New Jersey and Long Island said they’d be there. It soon became obvious that success was going to ruin my idea. There simply wasn’t space enough in the back room (the only place you could hold it) for both a stage and an audience. Curley’s would have to add a wing in back which of course they weren’t about to do. My brilliant idea never got off the ground.
People still ask me about it and I apologize and explain. I’ve thought about other venues: church halls etc, but they won’t do. If we still had the old Yale & Towne factory buildings with their illegal resident artists, it could have gone there.
By the way, speaking of cabaret at Yale & Towne reminds me of an event that took place there around 25 years ago. A friend, the photographer Bob Baldridge, had a great loft on the sixth floor of one of the old industrial buildings….real BOHO style. He had a girlfriend at the time who wanted to open a restaurant and he offered to let her try out her skills at a spaghetti dinner in his loft. I said I’d help out. I designed some great invitations and asked all my friends. But we made one fatal error: we didn’t take reservations. and the night of the dinner, (for which we asked for a donation, wine included) more than a hundred people showed up. They were lined up outside the door. Our wannabe chef had only one spaghetti pot and despite her frantic efforts to get it to boil, no one got fed till almost midnight. It was a spectacular disaster but the wine flowed, performers performed and everyone had a great time. We never had the nerve to do it again.