From Junkyard to Jazz Room

After succeeding in Wicker Park with Cafe Absinthe and Red Dog, Sam and Don Menetti are opening a sprawling jazz club and restaurant called Green Dolphin Street next week at 2200 N. Ashland. The Menetti brothers are betting $2 million that they can transform a former auto-glass repair shop and junkyard on three acres of land near the Clybourn Avenue corridor into a popular destination for jazz aficionados. Though Sam Menetti says he’s taking such a big financial risk simply because he’s a jazz lover, the lack of serious competition may have influenced his decision as well. “For a city this size, there aren’t a lot of jazz clubs,” says Green Dolphin Street manager Richard Glass.

Others on the jazz scene are watching the project with considerable interest. “This is the first time in a while that someone who really knows the business side of the business has opened a jazz club in Chicago,” says Jazz Institute of Chicago executive director David Sack, adding that the jazz business is in a state of flux in Chicago. Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase in the Blackstone Hotel is looking for a new home now that the hotel’s been sold. HotHouse, a popular site for alternative jazz, lost its lease in the Flat Iron Building last month, and owner Marguerite Horberg is presenting shows at the Firehouse, 1625 N. Damen, while she looks for a permanent home. The Jazz Buffet, one of the first clubs to try mixing food and music, hasn’t drawn the huge crowds it initially expected and is broadening its programming to include more than jazz. However, jazz is a growing presence in hotel lounges such as the Metropole Lounge at the Fairmont, and clubs like the Bop Shop still offer it nightly. Bop Shop owner Kate Smith says, “We’re moving out of that pretentious, elitist jazz era, where everyone had to sit quietly and listen, and getting back to a period of full audience participation.”

Glass says Green Dolphin Street will stick to “straight-ahead bebop” by predominantly local talent. A major national act will be featured about once a month. According to Glass, the jazz room holds approximately 120 and has an “updated 40s ballroom decor” incorporating mahogany wood and a burgundy-and-mustard color scheme. The adjoining restaurant, which seats 100, will offer entrees such as lobster and stuffed capon leg at prices ranging from $13 to $25. Cafe Absinthe chef Victor Gechrit is moving to Green Dolphin Street to oversee the kitchen.

Roosevelt v. Auditorium: The Heat Goes On

The ugly battle between Roosevelt University and the Auditorium Theatre Council isn’t over yet. On July 24 university president Theodore Gross called a meeting of the Roosevelt board of trustees to discuss Cook County Circuit Court Judge Aaron Jaffe’s ruling that “Roosevelt has the authority, right and prerogative to operate, maintain and restore the Auditorium Theatre.”

At the meeting Gross distributed a memorandum in which he accused a few members of the Auditorium Theatre Council of precipitating an “unpleasant and unnecessary dispute” by hiring a public relations firm “to carry on a mean-spirited media blitz that characterized themselves as ‘friends of the Auditorium Theatre’ and, by implication, the university as its enemy.” The memo went on to say that Roosevelt has spent approximately $500,000 on legal fees defending itself against the lawsuit filed by ATC members Fred Eychaner and Betty Lou Weiss to block Gross’s use of $1.5 million in Auditorium profits to help finance a new suburban campus for Roosevelt.

At the July 24 meeting Roosevelt trustees agreed to retain the Auditorium Theatre Council as a fund-raising entity, but decided to appoint a trustee task force to recommend an appropriate governance structure for the Auditorium. Members of the current ATC will be invited to remain on the fund-raising body.

But Eychaner and Weiss have an ally in the state attorney’s office and haven’t given up. They and some other ATC members are concerned that, because the council functioned as a public charitable trust, they could be held liable if Roosevelt were to misappropriate funds contributed to the Auditorium. Late last week attorneys for Eychaner and Weiss and assistant attorney general Floyd Perkins filed separate motions asking the court to reconsider its July decision. Jaffe will hear their arguments on August 22.

Revamping: Victor/Victoria Primps for Broadway

Despite rumors circulating in New York that Victor/Victoria would move on to Washington, D.C., after its Chicago run ends on September 3, its coproducer Tony Adams says the musical will go directly to New York and start previews at the Marquis Theater on October 3 as originally scheduled. In the interim, changes are being made to prepare the show for Broadway.

Since Victor/Victoria’s arrival here in early July, much attention has focused on revamping the show’s first act, particularly the first several scenes. One possible new opening includes a song for the chorus and a new number for star Julie Andrews that would replace her long, meandering first solo. Composer Frank Wildhorn and lyricist Leslie Bricusse have been brought to Chicago to write the new material.

Adams and director Blake Edwards are also concerned about the finale of act one, “Crazy World,” a rather somber ballad sung by Andrews. “At this point we’re playing with a lot of things,” says Adams, who adds that it’s difficult to make changes when the company is doing eight performances a week and union rules only allow two four-hour rehearsals a week. Victor/Victoria’s advance ticket sales in New York currently exceed $10 million, a respectable figure but still far from the $30-million-plus advance sales achieved by shows such as Miss Saigon and Sunset Boulevard.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/J.B. Spector.