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A Nice Place to Visit, but Harvey Plotnick Doesn’t Want to Stay There

Harvey Plotnick didn’t take long to decide that playing in big-league New York publishing circles wasn’t for him. The president of Chicago-based Contemporary Books is shutting down his eight-person New York office. Plotnick says he will refocus resources on his Chicago operation, which primarily publishes a highly profitable collection of nonfiction works with an emphasis on sports and culinary titles. The decision to retreat from the best-seller fiction sweepstakes comes in the wake of Louisa Elliott’s failure to reach the New York Times’s bestseller list. “We made a lot of local best-seller lists,” says Plotnick, “but not the Times list.” Contemporary launched the classy bodice-ripper (the first effort of British author Ann Victoria Roberts) in August with a hefty $250,000 advertising and promotion campaign and an 85,000-copy printing. Plotnick says Louisa Elliott will make money, but apparently not as much as he had hoped. He expects the Avon paperback to do significantly better. Plotnick’s decision to retrench was also influenced by what he considered the unreasonable advances being offered authors by many New York publishers. “These publishers are taking huge write-offs now,” says Plotnick, “because the books they’ve paid these big advances for aren’t making enough money.” Plotnick thinks he can do better with less flashy goods. “It may not be as glamorous,” says the Contemporary chief, “but its profitable.”

Can Park West Bring Back the Beautiful People?

Park West is about to unveil $150,000 worth of state-of-the-art video equipment, and observers of the club scene say it may be arriving just in the nick of time. Though it doubles as a concert venue, Park West the nightclub has been languishing since Jam Productions took over the management reins earlier this summer. Once a hot spot that could draw up to 600 party types on a good night, Park West quickly lost its hold on the beautiful people when Jam began making changes. The club got new, decidedly less friendly doormen, sources say, and most of the free passes disappeared. “Management went out of its way to alienate the trendies,” maintains one source. Jam honcho Jerry Mickelson was out of town and unavailable for comment.

Will “Noises Off” Close Due to Excess Profits?

Producers Wes Payne and Michael Leavitt and others with a vested interest in the long-running hit comedy Noises Off aren’t pleased that their show probably will have to close in February. “It’s heartbreaking,” says Arlene Crewdson, artistic director of Pegasus Players, where the award-winning hit show originated before moving to a commercial run at the Theatre Building in Novernber ’88. After much discussion, Payne and Leavitt were unable to forge an acceptable contract with Theatre Building operator Byron Schaffer to extend the show beyond February. Though Payne and Leavitt refused to hurl brickbats in Schaffer’s direction, other sources close to the negotiations contend that Schaffer is forcing the show’s closing by offering a new contract with higher rent and other unrealistic demands. “The Theatre Building has heavily subsidized Noises Off’s commercial run for 12 months,” notes Schaffer, who says his rental fees are lower than comparable space in other venues. “The thing that disturbs me the most about Noises Off, though, is that it’s a commercial venture,” adds Schaffer, who says his building was opened to house primarily not-for-profit ventures. Though Schaffer has other projects tentatively ready to go into the space, he appears to have left the door open just a crack to reconsider the Noises Off situation as February draws nearer.

Art of Africa

The Art Institute of Chicago is waking up to African art. In a nod to a significant constituency within the city, the museum will open “Yoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought” on February 10. Ramona Austin, the Art Institute’s assistant curator for African art, believes the Yoruba exhibit will be the city’s first African art exhibit of any real magnitude. It should buttress the museum’s image in the black community, she says, where people may have felt the museum did not house work that related to their cultural heritage. The exhibition will trace the history of Yoruba art in West Africa from the 11th century to the 20th. The Yoruba people of Nigeria and Benin are considered among the most prolific producers of African art, working in terra-cotta, copper, and brass. Austin came to the Art Institute in the fall of 1987 (before the flap over the Harold Washington painting) to work on exhibits like the Yoruba, as well as various educational programs.

A New Restaurant Checks In at the Belmont Hotel

Gary Hillman, the restaurateur who brought you the two Third Coast cafes on the near north side, is the brains behind Jacques, an American Bistro, set to open in the Belmont Hotel at 3170 N. Sheridan on or around December 15. The space Hillman is moving into has seen several tenants with the wrong ideas come and go in recent years. Formerly George Badonsky’s Tango, the room then became the pricey St. Tropez restaurant, which gave way last spring to the Kit Kat Klub, a night spot that lasted all of two months. Hillman hopes to succeed with a neighborhood concept in a neighborhood that desperately needs one. Reasonable prices and straight forward American fare with a few twists are what keep his neighbors coming in. For Anglophiles, Jacques will serve afternoon tea starting in January. Hillman hasn’t skimped on atmosphere. Extensive remodeling has yielded an airy neoclassical Italian courtyard setting. A heretofore concealed large dome has been uncovered and dotted with trompe l’oeil clouds.

Ravinia’s New Boss: Let’s Get Fiscal

The Ravinia Festival has a new executive director, Zarin Mehta, who succeeds Ed Gordon next June 1. The choice of Mehta, managing director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, surprised many local music execs. The Ravinia trustees’ decision to tap an executive director with substantial business-side experience indicates finances will be one of Mehta’s principal concerns along with programming the festival. Ravinia wound up with a $98,000 deficit for the year. Lower than expected attendance contributed to the red ink.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/John Sundlof.