From 1973 until 1978, I was a single woman living in Center City Philadelphia. My first apartment, an efficiency at 8th and Pine was, in the words of a boyfriend, a “cracker jack box”. But it was just the thing. I wanted to live alone and my gig as a singer paid me just enough to afford the hundred and fifteen dollars a month.
I had gone to Head House Square to Lautrec, a French restaurant and jazz cafe. After I sang “La Vie en Rose”, owner Ed Bottone suggested I go to The Cafe Erlanger, a magnificent old theatre, bar, restaurant and disco. There I auditioned for the Harry Jay Katz, the notorious entrepreneur. He was so reviled by some that there was a sign on the Schuylkill Expressway: Harry Jay Katz is Not as Bad as Philadelphians Say He Is. And he wasn't. In fact, he was Type to enter textthe only boss I ever had who suggested a raise.
Le tout Philadelphie frequented The Erlanger. It featured a large bar, a cigarette girl, fine dining, a billiard room and a disco. The bartenders wore tuxedos. I had an early set, accompanying myself on guitar. Then, a jazz trio took over. I usually hung around for awhile, schmoozing with the bartenders or Harry Jay’s girlfriend.
A large part of my salary went toward my wardrobe : a long black skirt and tops embellished with sequins. A flower in my hair. Harry Jay contented himself with a tuxedo. Through my contacts at the Erlanger, I appeared on The Marciarose Show. She wanted to know if I wanted Erlanger pronounced the French way, as in AIR LON JAY.
Meanwhile, the grandiose Erlanger was in financial trouble and soon I was searching for another gig. I found it at Cafe Yaas at Fourth and South.
Cafe Yaas was owned by three Iranian immigrants, Desmond, Richmond and Edmond. The boss, Edmond played the accordion with Jack on guitar, Chick on oud and John on bazouki. They taught me to sing Greek and Israeli songs. Yaas served Turkish coffee and middle Eastern delicacies. Back then, hummus was house made, rare and exotic , unlike today when it’s available in every supermarket in multiple brands and flavors. Yaas was the only cafe in Philadelphia open until 4 o'clock in the morning. Belly-dancers from the Middle East restaurant on Chestnut St. came to Yaas after work and gyrated on the small dance floor.
I had a blast at Yaas. Edmond’s mother taught me how to use zils, , brass Middle Eastern castanets. I loved the exotic atmosphere, the camaraderie, the music. But soon, Yaas, too was having financial difficulties. I knew the jig was up when my paycheck bounced. I should have known that when I got a check instead of cash, that it was going to bounce. Edmond paid me in cash but within a and week I got a call to come to Ontario to play Woman Number one in “Jacques Brel is Alive and Living in Paris”.
I came back in the fall and began singing with Buddy Barnes at the Canal House in New Hope. I performed French songs and he introduced me to Sondheim. Then a call came from London, Ontario. They were reopening Jacques Brel in a different theatre. I went back and resumed the role of Woman Number One. When the show folded, I returned to Philadelphia.
And to a day job. In college, I had earned a certificate to teach French at Rutgers University. I went down to the School District of Philadelphia and secured a French position at West Philadelphia High School. My fancy cafe society friends were horrified when they learned of this development. But they had nothing to fear. The kids were sweet and polite and I enjoyed teaching them.
When the school year was over, I hopped on the bus and rode the 21 blocks down South St. to Le Bistro , a cozy restaurant/bar at Front and Fitzwater. I was welcomed by the tall, genial proprietor, Rick Sirianni.
The audition went well. I sang a few songs in French and got a nod from Morgan, one of the waitstaff. Rick hired me for four nights a week and offered a good salary.
I was able to buy a beautiful, navy blue reefer coat from Toby Lerner, my favorite store. I could afford to live alone. My apartment was a one-bedroom third floor walk -up with exposed brick and built ins for my many books. My grandmother bought me a set of Revere Ware pots and pans. There was room for my beloved bicycle.
Some other gigs along the way:
Arthur’s Steak House. That was a tough one. I was performing in a bar below the restaurant. Usually I was serenading the bartender, a sweet guy named Joe who introduced me to the music of Johnny Hartman, the great balladeer. When I left Arthur’s, I gave Joe one of his albums, purchased at Sam Goody on Chestnut St. The same Sam Goody where my father purchased my guitar, a Martin 000-18.
Then, there was the gig at The Pen and Pencil Club on Latimer St. I met reporters, developing a crush on Pete Dexter, a Daily News columnist who became a famous writer. He congratulated me for bringing culture to the famous watering hole, but a romance was far from his mind; he had a girlfriend whose name sometimes appeared in his columns.
I met a lawyer there who invited me to the opera. I was thrilled until he told me to meet him at the Pen and Pencil Club for dinner. Hot dogs and booze were the featured fare. My date was drunk.
During the blizzard of 1978, I made choucroute garnie for one. I had decided to cook tasty meals in my post stamp- sized kitchen. The fridge was in the living room. So when it snowed, I put Brazilian music on the stereo and happily prepared the Alsace Lorrainian saeurkraut dish.
Not long after, while teaching at Martin Luther King High School, I met Barry Cohen, an English teacher. He began paying visits to the foreign language department where I was teaching French. I thought he was cute in his loden corduroy jacket and curly hair. He had beautiful blue eyes. And he was smart.
He had gotten a law degree, practiced for a while, and decided he didn’t want to put in all of the hours that it demanded. He also could cook. He owned Volumes I and II of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The New York Times Cookbook. He prepared sherried chicken with green noodles for my mother and grandmother.
We had similar tastes in music. He loved folk music and had all of Ian and Sylvia’s albums. Peter, Paul and Mary. We had duplicate Judy Collins albums. He introduced me to the Tony Bennett and Bill Evans album. One of the tracks, Leonard Bernstein’s “Some Other Time” became our song.
page last updated: March 24, 2019