Lindy Across the Mid-Atlantic States
You can swing out practically anywhere!
Choose a city from this list:
September 24, 1998
It's West Coast swing, East Coast jitterbug, Lindy hop, and occasionally, Carolina shag.
It's all swing dancing, the latest dance craze sweeping the United States -- and the Lehigh Valley is in the thick of it.
Every Tuesday, the Lehigh Valley Swing Society attracts more than 100 eager participants to its gatherings where many are learning the dances from the eras of their parents and grandparents. But this is a multi-generational gathering -- their parents and grandparents can be found dancing right along with them.
Pamela Wallace and her 21-year-old daughter, Brenna, of the Allentown area are typical. "Brenna started the lessons several weeks ago because she's going to attend Philadelphia College of Textiles in January and wanted to know swing dancing before she got there. It's really big in Philadelphia," Pamela said. "She had such a good time that she invited me to come along, and I'm having a ball."
The fact that it can be a family event in which all ages participate is one of swing dancing's biggest attractions. Said Pamela, "One of Brenna's favorite partners is a little guy who's obviously many, many years older than she is."
The Lehigh Valley group, which was established in May, met at Bethlehem's Wesley Methodist Church until recently when it moved to the spacious dance floor at the Fearless Fire Company in Allentown.
Swing dancers like the partnership aspect and that they can dance with different partners, said John Thoder, one of the Swing Society's founding members who occasionally serves as teacher. "There's no such thing as dancing with one partner all night. We have Jack and Jill dances where you dance with the person whose name you draw out of a hat, and Snowflake (multiplication) dances."
Even in the early evening sessions for beginners, dancers move from one partner to the next as they practice the new steps together.
The fashion statement made by dancers who wear the retro outfits of the 1940s is one aspect of the swing phenomenon that hasn't yet reached the Lehigh Valley. At a recent Swing Society session, jeans and shorts were the preferred attire. Footwear ranged from sneakers to cowboy boots to work boots.
Several of the Swing Society members are regulars at TK's Corral in Allentown, where country-western line dancing is an attraction. However, a spokesman for the popular nightspot said management there had no plans to add swing dancing sessions.
But Tim Briody, an owner of the Sterling Hotel, a popular nightspot located in Allentown, said he's "thinking of testing the waters" regarding swing dancing nights at the hotel. "I have reservations about it though," he said, "because we did have a swing dance band from New York perform several times in the past -- and they were not our biggest nights."
Still, Sterling patrons have shown some interest, Briody said, "so maybe we'll try it on Wednesday nights in October or November."
Weekend swing dance events can usually be found within driving distance of the Lehigh Valley at nightspots and restaurants in Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey.
Swing dancing is hot from The Masquerade in Atlanta to The Derby in Los Angeles and Cafe du Nord in San Francisco. Clubgoers dressed in vintage clothes pack New York's Supper Club and Swing 46 on Friday and Saturday nights.
Until the local clubs overcome their reluctance to schedule regular sessions for them, Valley swing enthusiasts can be found in the studios of area dance instructors, who are marveling at the dance style's booming popularity.
Said Lynn Kulik of Victory Fitness and Dance Center, Emmaus: "My biggest classes are in swing dance -- 35 to 50 at a session. I'm teaching seven days a week -- in Reading, Emmaus, at colleges, Brookside Country Club, evening classes at Rodale Press. And in November, I'm beginning a big group class on Sunday afternoons."
Kulik said her swing classes are composed of people of all ages, "from 16 through 87." She speculated that the latter age group participates because "it's a way of bringing back a part of their youth." But also, she added, "It prevents them from becoming couch potatoes and has great cardiovascular benefits."
Reported John Conrad of Conrad's Lehigh Valley Ballroom Dance Studio in Allentown: "Interest in swing is phenomenal. Our calls are four-to-one for swing." The Conrad studio is holding three beginner classes and one intermediate swing class. Said Conrad, "People in other classes range in age from about 40 to 60, but it's the young adults who are most interested in swing -- primarily the East Coast swing, because you interchange partners.
Added Conrad: "I think the Gap commercial that's been running that features swing dancing couples, as well as several dance movies like 'Swingers' in the past couple of years, have spiked the boom in swing."
The Gap TV commercial showed young people wearing khaki slacks dancing to Louie Prima's "Jump, Jive an' Wail," a 1958 post-bobbysox era hit.
A class specifically devoted to swing dance was recently begun at the Arthur Murray Studio in Bethlehem, according to manager Michelle Bouton, and the staff includes a "resident swing specialist."
It's all in response to "the new interest in swing dancing," said Bouton. The dances that previous generations dubbed simply "jitterbug" have been around since the 1920s when "danceable jazz" was first performed by trumpeter Louis Armstrong when he played with the Fletcher Henderson band at New York's famed Roseland Ballroom.
It was further refined in the 1930s by such jazz greats as Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Grene Krupa and Glenn Miller. By the time World War II ended, swing had evolved out of its ragtime and jazz roots into an established separate dance form.
Though swing is widely regarded as undergoing a revival, Marie Steltz of Easton maintained it has always had a niche, particularly in New York City-area clubs. Steltz, owner of Marie's Dance Center in Easton, taught swing twice a week at New York's Red Parrot Club in 1980. "After the '70s disco craze, many of the Manhattan clubs began to promote swing again," she said. "And even in the Lehigh Valley area, young people were interested in learning swing then, but the problem was that not only was there no place to go to dance, but they had to settle for remakes of the music of the old swing orchestras."
Today, there are new bands -- Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (featured on the "Swingers" movie soundtrack), Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Royal Crown Revue, Squirrel Nut Zippers -- whose contemporary swing music, a mix of big band, rockabilly, western swing and jump blues, is showing up on Billboard charts as well as on MTV.
Steltz pointed out that West Coast swing can be done to a rhythm and blues beat. Enrollment in Steltz' classes is indisputable proof that college students are among swing's biggest fans. "I teach a class at Lafayette College," she said, "and in just three days, there was a registration of 45 with a waiting list of 50." And though she didn't advertise classes during the summer, she had "loads of young people" participating in the sessions she held.
Lessons in swing dancing are offered by:
Wandering in Cape May, New Jersey
Editor's note: The entire Jersey Shore is merely an extension of Philadelphia. Check out the Philadelphia Swing Dance Society website for possible leads before you go.
What to do in Cape May
The corniest, most sentimental thing to do is to go to Sunset Beach at sunset. The old guy who runs the beach concessions plays a scratchy old Kate Smith version of "God Bless America" while he takes down the flag. The sunset is usually very beautiful. Other things are:
WHERE TO STAY
There are about a gillion B&B's in Cape May. We have a house there, so we don't stay at B&B's. However, from visits and chats with the owners, here is my assessment (I have been in Cape May for 20 years)
Call early for reservations. During the summer season, some places have three day minima or other complex terms.
How to find Dancing in Cape May:
Get a copy of a free weekly called "At The Shore". I always get mine at the WaWa Dairy Store just off Lafayette St. This lists bands and venues. Currently, only 3 venues in Cape May have live bands: Carney's, the Rusty Nail, and the Atlas Motor Inn. Not much of a dance floor at any of them
Call the Joanne Reagan Dance Studio (609)-884-2600 to see if she can help you out with venues for dancing.
There is a Big Band dance at the Hilton casino in Atlantic City on the third Saturday of the month (8:30-10:30) Call 1-800-736-1420 to find out about other dates. If you go to Atlantic City, be sure to eat at The World Famous White House Sub Shop (corner of Mississippi and Arctic Avenues, 609-345-8599) This may be one of the best places on the east coast to E*A*T (the Yiddish word, I believe is fressen) There is NO atmosphere except for the zillions of framed photos of all the celebrities in the world who sing their praises.
Directions to Cape May from Washington, DC
1. Take I 95 north to the Delaware Memorial Bridge
8. 1/2 mile past the entrance to US 83 is Court House Road.
A suggestion for your trip: On the way up, we often take a small detour to Chesapeake City (get off I95 at Elkton and follow the signs). This is a very nice village at the end of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal, one of the nation's oldest waterways. There are lots of nicely restored houses, bed & breakfast inns and antique stores. We have lunch at the Tap Room (410-885-2344) and they have Mussels Marinara that you could die for. They also have a Cab Calloway disc on the juke box, so you can work off lunch with Jim Jam Jumpin' Jive. It turns out that there are a lot of thrift stores in Elkton and (better yet) they actually put out vintage clothes and uniforms instead of shipping them to Japan.
Our trip to Philadelphia and Atlantic City
By: Frank Morra
Note: before you do anything in Philadelphia, check out PEnnsylvania 6- 5000, a hip new swing website in the area.
Saturday July 25, 1998
We spent the days of this glorious weekend working on out "vacation home" (that's an oxymoron...) in Cape May, fixing things and checking the growth of the notorious sea oats who think they have some natural right to be in the lawn. However, by night, we sampled the best of the new venues in Philadelphia and Atlantic City. Yes, folks, swing has made it to the "Joisey Shoor".
On Saturday, we checked in at the Five Spot (5 S. Bank Street, 215-574-0070). This is a very elegant little boite in an alley off Market Street between Second and Third Streets, in the "Old City" neighborhood. (Take I-95 to I-76 and exit on Broad Street; Turn right onto Broad, and then left on Race Street, go to Second Street, turn right, proceed to Market Street and turn right. Bank Street is about midway in the block --- but it is not well marked) This is the neighborhood made famous by Ed and Joe, "The Furniture Guys" on PBS --- if you are there during the day, you have to stop in at Mode Moderne, the ultimate 50s retro store. (More details below)
The Five Spot is a dream right out of the early 1950s. There is a small dance floor surrounded by tiers of padded leather booths that is made for those who want to see and be seen. The Tom McClatchey duo entertained us with lounge songs during dinner. The food is very good with a strong Italian influence --- we liked the mussels so much that we ordered a second portion. The service was quite spiffy as well.
The folks in Philly like to dress up --- we saw some great vintage threads on both the gals and the guys. The gang was quite friendly and really liked to dance. We did some of our fox-trot between courses while the duo was playing and had a great time starting out slow. Lots of polite smiles, indicating "Nice to have old-timers around..."
At 10:00, the main attraction, Big Rude Jake took the stage. This is a seven piece jump blues band. The boys did an instrumental to warm up, but we were stunned when Jake got up to sing --- he looks so much like Johnny Boyd of Indigo Swing that I did a double take. (Later, we found that this is no accident...) He started with "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" and we figured it was time for some serious, kick-butt Lindy Hop. We led off with a throw-out and right into a driveshaft ("Do aerials early and often"). Alas, our secret was out --- a really nice lady named Anna came up and said, "Are you the jitterbuzz people?" They apparently read the website in Philadelphia...
We got some great pictures of the band and the crowd which we may be found in our Philadelphia Photoessay. The band was excellent! Facing an hours drive home, we left at midnight which was probably just as well, because the place had become so crowded and smoky that Lindy Hop was impossible. The night's tab was about $28 plus a giant tip for our lovely waitress. All in all, a bargain.
Sunday July 26, 1998
After battling the sea oats and the drain hoses for the washer, We spent some time on the beach. We watched the sun go down and participated in the "Sunset Ceremony", in which a scratchy 78 of Kate Smith singing "God Bless America" is played while the flag is lowered. You have to be there to appreciate it...
Don't forget Atlantic City!
After that, we headed for Atlantic City and dinner at the White House Sub Shop (Corner of Mississippi and Arctic Avenues) for a "special". More about this later...
We headed down the road to the Trump Marina (passing, by the way, both Baltic and Mediterranean Avenues, but nobody handed us $200). Our destination was The Wave, the new swing venue. We were very surprised to find that it is done in good taste, has a very spacious sprung wood dance floor, and the sound system is excellent. The headwaiter took one look at the black and white shoes and gave us a table right next to the dance floor. The manager recognized us from the website and offered to comp us dinner; we mentioned that we had eaten at the White House and she laughed --- she had eaten there and had brought subs in for the waitstaff. However, she did keep us well supplied with ice water for the rest of the evening.
The band was Set 'Em Up Joe, a really great jump blues combo that kept the tunes flowing all night. They have a great act and played strictly swing. They told us that the Wave wants to attract swing dancers in a serious way. Later in the evening, we were joined by some of the crowd from the Five Spot the night before. The place eventually filled to capacity We had a number of offers from what looked like "High Rollers" --- sharkskin suits, sunglasses --- to buy us drinks ("no thanks") and to dance at weddings, bar mitzvahs and the like ("talk to Tom and Deb"). The band was great, the staff was great and the floor was great. All for free --- with the exception of a giant tip for Natoli, the waitress. We got this nice note:
From: Deborah Rice-Cally
Monday July 27, 1998
It could have been 1935. You approach what looks like a bank that got the worst of the Depression. The neighborhood is largely boarded up, but the chrome steel doors of the bank are brightly polished. You pound on the door and a completely bald giant in a white tuxedo eyes you through a peephole. You give him the password.
He nods imperceptively, takes a sawbuck, and the heavy doors swing noiselessly open.
Thus, began our evening at DISTRICT, Philadelphia's newest and hottest swing spot. It is, in fact, located in the remains of a very elegant bank in North Philadelphia and it attracts the best looking crowd that we have seen in a long time. The dance floor is spacious, the sound system is excellent and there are plenty of Art Deco sofas for the ladies to perch on as they show off their vintage finery. Our favorite spot was the Vault, complete with massive doors and the combination lock mechanism. It is painted in gold and lavishly decorated with Chinoisserie. This is one elegant club! The 1990s don't exist here --- this is a class act that turns the clock all the way back to the best of the 1930s.
However, the venue with all its elegance doesn't hold a candle to the featured attraction, Lee Press-on and the Nails.
The emcee says: "They're sharper than the razor you shaved with this morning."
Your eye is immediately drawn to the Lee Press-on, who describes himself as "a cross between Cab Calloway and The Joker". This evening, Lee was impeccable in a black zoot suit (from El Pachuco) with spats, spectators, chain, pencil moustache and slicked black hair. He wore skintight black gloves throughout the performance in which the band gave 110% in non-stop antics.
With a roar from the crowd, Lee grabbed the microphone ("like it owed him money," said one wag) and shouted, "Good evening ladies and gentlemen! I am Lee Press-on and these are the NAILS!" The band launched into a swinging tune tune that we were promised would "strip the paint from the walls quicker than a bottle of bathtub gin".
From 10:00 until 1:00 am, the nonstop swing, jive and smart patter continued. We were treated to every genre from big band to jump blues to lounge rendered with pure unalloyed swing energy. On "Constantinople", the band donned fezzes. In a surprisingly faithful rendition of "Sing, Sing, Sing", the band encouraged a swing jam and we were pleasantly surprised to note that aerials are alive and well in Philadelphia. On "Sympathy for the Devil", Lee treated us to an exhibition of break dancing.
During the break, the band was very accessible and really seemed to enjoy hanging out with the swing dancers.
The Nails are eleven young men from the San Francisco Bay Area. According to their official biography on their website, the band's swingin' rhythm section includes Beau "Doc" Faw on drums, Taylor "Boy Wonder" Cutcomb on piano, and Stuart "Stubing" Sperring on the stand-up bass. For the horn section, there's Matt "Pouch" Cohen and Todd "Shermy" Grady on trumpets, David "Babyface" Kraczek and Bob "B-flat" Theis on trombones, and "Amazing" Larry Sweeny, Bob "Buck" Rogers and Mark "Marco" Donelly on baritone, tenor and alto saxophones respectively.
We were very taken with the luscious Leslie Presley, featured vocalist -- and that black sequinned gown was just, well, it was just barely there. Finally, we cannot offer high enough praise for Lee Press-on for his showmanship, vocals, vibraphone and harmonica. No wonder they call this the "Swing Band From Hell."
This is a "Must See" band. If you are anywhere near Philadelphia (say, in DC), you should visit District, 6th and Spring Garden Sts. (600 Spring Garden St.) in Philadelphia. Club info (215) 351-9404. Swing nights follow at District every Friday night. Scheduled to appear The Blues Jumpers, Flipped Fedora's, Ron Sunshine and Full Swing, Ronnie James and The Jez Hot Swing Club and many more. Live nationally recognized bands every Friday night.
Vintage and Thrift in Philadelphia
Philadelphia has a small swing dance scene. If you are going to be in town, check out the website of the Philadelphia Swing Dance Society
We spent the day checking out Philadelphia. The theme for the day was "Modernism" or the "Bauhaus Style" of Ludwig Mies van Der Rohe, Le Corbusier, Eero Saarinen and Charles Eames. Because we are devotees of the popular "Furniture to Go" (FTG) show on The Learning Channel (and of its zany hosts, Ed Feldman and Joe L'Erario), we had amassed a list of Philadelphia area stores which specialize in this period. We were not disappointed.
We also found several interesting vintage/thrift stores in our wanderings:
Pitsburgh, November 2002
I spent the first 30 years of my life in Pittsburgh and never managed to see it all. If you are going to be there for three days, you can only scratch the surface. I have always said that Western Pennsylvania is sort of like Sicily or Alabama --- it really isn't set up for quick-access tourism. If you go to Pittsburgh without a guide, it is 100% certain that you will be miserable. All of the good stuff is enjoyed by locals in small neighborhoods that are somewhat isolated by the alarmingly mountainous geography --- this is a city with almost NO flat plain. The vast bulk of the city was built before the Automobile, so streets are windy, narrow, and not at right angles.
The isolation of neighborhoods meant that there was plenty of opportunity for local family businesses --- particularly bars and restaurants. Just as in other major cities, folks from various immigrant groups tended to live together; the unique geography of Pittsburgh has tended to preserve ethnic enclaves much longer than other places --- Bloomfield is Italian, Troy Hill is German, Greenfield is Baltic, the South Side is Slavic, and Polish Hill is self explanatory. When I was a kid, the only threads that united these groups were the Mills, Sports teams, and West View Park Danceland. Every ethnic kid had to take music lessons and, hence, Pittsburgh has a fine pool of musicians of all stripes. There is a vast amount of live music available.
Communicating With The Natives
The physical isolation caused by the region's very unique geography contributed to the persistence of a unique speech style called Pittsburghese, which is a mixture of Old English tempered with contributions from the zillions of ethnic groups. This is serious stuff --- even the local television and radio announcers broadcast in the dialect. The Pittsburghese Website even provides a Translation Algorithm should you desire to maximize you communication opportunities. Illustrating this is a graphic that we used for our 1999 workshop in Pittsburgh:
Briefly, Uncle Sam is shown exhorting you to go swing dancing and then to join him in one of the center city's dining establishments for a sandwich and a soft drink; he reminds you to show respect for age.
Pittsburgh is an old city on a triangular plot of land between two rivers. Sreets run at VERY odd angles, and getting from one part to another requires a keen awareness of where bridges are. I strongly suggest that you get a map!
Assume that the triangular area at the intersection of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers is the Center of the city. It is called the "Downtown" or the "Golden Triangle". The "Point" of the triangle faces West. Most of the dancing and all of the Colleges and Universities will be EAST of the triangle. Most of the residential suburbs are West and North of the Triangle (because in old times, the pollution didn't blow that way...) The South Side is like Adams-Morgan. A neighborhood called Shadyside is their yuppie "quaint town" (like Georgetown). Bloomfield is like Little Italy, and Squirrel Hill was a predominately Jewish Neighborhood. GET A GOOD MAP BECAUSE THERE IS NO SYSTEM TO THE STREETS
What should you see?
Briefly, you can't go wrong if you visit anything on This List. It will take at least ten years of weekend s to begin to scratch the surface, so I have boiled things down.
A 2-3 hour Walking Overview of Pittsburgh
Eat breakfast at DeLuca's in the Commercial Strip. They serve "outside DC" portions. The Italian raisin Bread French Toast is out of this world. The restaurant was a set for the film "Passed Away". The waitresses are rude with a heart of gold. If you don't have your order right away, they will let you wait a long time.
The Commercial Strip was the city's wholesale produce market. It is now devoted to retail business. My grandfather made his living for nearly 50 years about three doors east of DeLucas. The Strip was "Upside Down" --- it was open for business at 10:00 pm and closed at 9:00 am because that's when the trains came through and unloaded all the fruit, produce, meat, and other perishable goods. All the restaurants were only open at night -- hence the area became a mecca for night owls like computer programmers and jazz musicians. The workmen only had a few moments to eat, and thus originated the "strip sandwich" with sausage, french fries, cole slaw and hot peppers in a split-open loaf of Italian bread. Blue collar workers had a larger need for calories than today's computer jockeys.
Besides, you were going to die quickly from unsafe machinery or air pollution --- who thought about long-term diseases like hardening of the arteries!
When I was in college, one of those sandwiches and a big mug of coffee was 45 cents.
In the "Strip", you can walk a few blocks to the Pittsburgh Regional History Center (13th and Smallman Streets, the Strip, 412-454-6000) The Center is housed in the renovated Chautauqua Lake Ice Company warehouse built in 1898. The Center does a fantastic job of recreating the history of the region and is a must for vintage collectors. The city had a thriving jazz scene and this history is shown in great detail
From there, it is only six blocks to the "Downtown" (pronounced "dahntahn"), check out the Forbes Room at Kaufman's Department Store (Fifth and Smithfield Street, (412) 232-2307). This is the high-class "little old lady" department store restaurant where they serve fruit on mounds of cottage cheese. My Aunt Helen used to get dressed up in her best clothes to take me there for a glimpse at what the rich people were doing.
Walk across the street from Kaufman's and check out the Urban Room at the William Penn Hotel. It was created by the famous film and theater set designer Joseph Urban. This must be the finest Art Deco room in the world, surpassing even the Rainbow Room. It is done entirely in Black and Gold, with 30 foot ceilings and smooth mirror-finish marble on the walls
After "Downtown" cross over to the South Side, which is sort of Pittsburgh's Adams-Morgan. 3 of the best vintage stores are here. Check out The Pretzel Shop --- you will go CRAZY for real fresh-baked Pittsburgh soft pretzels.
What about Dinner?
One of my favorite dinner restaurants is Tessaros in my old neighborhood, Bloomfield, where there used to be wall-to-wall Italian-American families. I love it, but most folks today will think that it's the pits. Walk down some of the dingy side streets and imagine that --- night and day --- every thirty seconds a steam train belching smoke comes roaring through Panther Hollow. You can maybe get an idea of why I am so big on Fred and Ginger
Ice Cream and Ecclesiastic ArtIf you really like Ice Cream, then you must travel to Regis Steedle's Place in Millvale. It's in the phone book. If you go there, spend a moment at St. Nicholas' Croatian Church, the one with the Maxo Vanka antiwar paintings. It is truly a breathtaking experience.
Millvale is a poor place blasted time and again by the shift away from blue collar industrial jobs. It is definitely NOT pretty, but the people are swell and they try their hardest to make do with what they have. Millvale is still a lot like the "old" Pittsburgh that I knew and loved.
Check out the listings for Pittsburgh in the Vintage Directory. The best deals are at "Crimes of Fashion" the best selection is at "Hey Betty" with prices to match.
More Pittsburgh Context
If you want the "flavor" of old-time Pittsburgh, read a few chapters of The Serial. Also, you can read about my mentor and hero, Monsignor Charles Owen Rice, "The Labor Priest". Msgr Rice helped may people channel poverty and acute awareness of lower class background into achievement
Pittsburgh vanishes a little every year until the streets will be perfectly clean and the rivers entirely straight. Almost everything that I knew and loved is now either in a museum, or a museum itself. While you are at it, think of me when you see the 1950s tract house display in the Museum.
I hope this helps!
Our Spring Trip To Pittsburgh
Thursday April 23, 1998
We headed out for Pittsburgh. We actually didn't plan to do much dancing. I always pack the zoot suit "just in case". The trip was great. There was hardly any traffic -- I left my desk at 4:30, picked up my partner and we were sitting at Tessaro's at 9:30pm. Peter, the owner, saw us walk in and apologized because the Beef Ribs with Atomic Sauce (the Thursday Special) had sold out. This could have been a major disaster, but he volunteerd to make us the World's Greatest Chicken Caesar Salad. It was truly magnificent! He grilled four of his wonderful chicken breasts marinated in a secret sauce over a wood fire, and made the salad with full romaine leaves, real eggs and about a quarter of a pound of big Sicillian anchovies. It was magnificent!
While we were waiting, I picked up a copy of In Pittsburgh, the local entertainment throwaway. I noticed an ad for "Swing Thursday" at Club Heaven, featuring "Dr. Zoot and the Suits". This seemed well out of character for Pittsburgh, so I called. Indeed, they played uptempo swing, had a big dance floor, and ENCOURAGED the wearing of period clothes. We prevailed upon Peter to let us change in his office. It is a short trip across the Bloomfield Bridge, down Bigelow Boulevard to Sixth Street and Club Heaven, formerly a disco. The place is the lobby of the old Fulton Theater and it is absolutely stunning -- lots of carved pink marble and a big dance floor ringed with Art Deco furniture. The cover was $3 and valet parking was $5. A small investment for a grand site.
We walked in and got eyed by everyone (it's the hat...) The band played "Go Daddy O" and we took center stage. I am pleased to report that everything worked, even the double driveshaft. I even did the thing with tossing the hat to a guy in the crowd. We made a lot of friends and stayed until closing. We gave Tom's patented Charleson lesson and had a few couples doing a fairly credible swingout.
Now, a word about the band. Dr. Zoot and the Suits is definitely an up-and coming outfit. They have good, solid musicianship and they play well together. They have been together for about two months and have a great ear for the swing sound. We hope that some of those who book bands here will give them a call. Stan will need to put on extra rangers to keep people out of Glen Echo if they play here. We got a nice letter from Al Peden, their Bass player.
From: Al Peden <<ALBASSGUY@Aol.com>>
[Editor's Note: These guys are GOOD --- but they are just starting out. NOW is the time to get to know them. They have what it takes to get to where Indigo Swing is. Send them a note of encouragement!]
Friday April 24, 1998
We began the day with breakfast at De Luca's, in the "Strip District" (nothing lewd here, it is a long narrow strip of land that adjoins the old Pennsylvania Railroad tracks that is made up of wholesale outlets and warehouses. It has become trendy of late, but De Lucas has been there forever. They always win awards for breakfasts.
From there, we went to Bloomfield, my old neighborhood. We walked around, and I noticed that one of the barbers at Cercone's had a familiar face. We went inside and chatted for a while about old times and Dan Cercone who passed away last year. I asked whether it was true that Dan had cut Caesar Romero's hair. The fellow said, "No - Dan cut Dean Martin's hair -- I cut Caesar's." I was stunned. I said, "Could you cut my hair like that?" Then I explained about our passion for vintage things, etc, etc. and we did a lockup. He looked at my hair and said, "I can give you a cut that I used to give Jitterbuggers in the 40s." So, I sat down and he began his work. He didn't use any clippers -- just a straight razor. He worked on me for two hours. It looked great. But then I realized that the beard had to go. So, he gave me a real barber shave and a facial. So, now I have a hairdo to match the vintage clothes...
From there, we went on to Crimes of Fashion (4628 Forbes Avenue in Oakland, 412-682-7010), a great Vintage store. There is not yet much demand for 40s in the 'Burgh, so I was able to STEAL a complete gray flannel suit (double breasted, high waist) for $65. I also got a linen double breasted sports coat for $16. The best buys were some Countess Mara sport shirts from the 50s -- in L.A. Confidential, Jack Vincennes (the "Dragnet" advisor is fond of wearing these) -- at $5. My partner got a really great dress as well.
We headed "Downtown" to the Forbes Room at Kaufmann's for Tea. This may well be the very last elegant "Ladies Restaurant" in a high class department store. True to form, the place was full of matrons chowing down on gigantic creations of cottage cheese and fruit. No calories there... Pittsburgh is most enjoyable for its juxtaposition of "high" and "low" culture. After the elegant Tea, we stopped into the Oyster House for a glass of their famous buttermilk. This is a real "joint" with sawdust on the floor and "atmosphere en bas". We took some time to look at the collection of photos from Miss America pageants in the 1930s.
We spent the rest of the afternoon checking up on high nostalgia sights, including the Urban Room at the William Penn Hotel. This must be the finest Art Deco room in the world, surpassing even the Rainbow Room. It is done entirely in Black and Gold, with 30 foot ceilings and smooth mirror-finish marble on the walls. This is one of the ballrooms at the hotel and we did a few steps while the staff were preparing the room for a meeting. After the first aerial, Lindy Hoppers are generally more welcome among staff than foreign potentates.
We had dinner at The Grant Bar (108 Grant Ave, Millvale), one of the city's Grand Old Neighborhood Bars. The bar and dining room are decorated in a plaster version of a German hunting lodge. The inside looks a whole lot nicer than the outside --- very good cooking. Stick to the sandwich menu, though.
Later that evening, we visited the Steel City Boogie Club at an obscure Days Inn Motel off Banksville Road. This reminded us of the early formative days of Lindy at Randy's in a Holiday Inn at Tysons. The folks there do a form of East Coast swing that has sort of merged with Carolina Shag. This is the generic swing dance of Pittsburgh that I used to practice at the old West View Park Danceland. One of the dancers had seen us at Heaven the night before and asked us to do a demo of Lindy. We made certain to tell everyone that they should really see either Tom and Debra or Marc and Ellen, our teachers. Fortunately, they had one good fast Lindy song --- "Avalon" by the Rhythm Sheiks. We want to thank Gator for making us hip to this song, because it was also familiar to the crowd. Once again, everything worked.
We made a whole lot of friends, and went out for pizza at Beto's. This place makes pizza in great big sheets and cuts them into squares about 6 inches on a side. I used to eat at Beto's after dances 35 years ago when they had a store near Carnegie Tech. This was a real nostalgia moment.
We also got this nice note:
From: E Warclaw E Warclaw@Aol.com
I danced in High School ( 66, 67,and 68) and the steps were similiar to what they do at Steel City Boogie Club. However, my wife and I do traditional triple step Jitterbug, we were in some contests didn't win but I think its because we do a more lively version of Swing -- and that's why I'm interested in Lindy Hop (I heard it referred to as the Anti-Christ of Ballroom Dancing). But, hey we have fun. I haven't been to the Club Cafe, I am going to go there.
I plan on going to DC within the next couple of weeks, we have friends who live in Arlington, VA. At your convenience please send me a list of places you would recommend to see or do Lindy or Jitterbug.
Just a little sidelight. I happended to be in Myrtle Beach during the Shag convention so I went to North Myrtle Beach and did Jitterbug -- it didn't go over well.
Thank you for your time and take care.
[Editor's Note: We invite our readers to Bombard Mr. Warclaw with messages of Goodwill, Welcome, Help, and "Stick With It -- Lindy's Time Has Come"]
Saturday April 25, 1998
We started the day at DeLuca's again. From there, we headed south, to Washington, Pa, a small town about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh. If you read our review of the Rockin Bones dance, we mentioned Washington as the home of the infamous Four Queens, where I first heard rockabilly and saw swing dancing. Alas, the bar is long since gone. Washington is also home to Shorty's, a restaurant that specializes in Hot Dogs -- real handmade German frankfurters shipped in from Lancaster and grilled on a giant hot metal plate that has been in continuous operation since 1927. The place is deservedly famous, but has very special meaning to me because it is the last remaining example of my Dad's "Speakeasy Carpentry." He and my Uncle Ralph used to build Art Deco bars out of plywood for speakeasies in the 1920s.
We made our way to the Public Library where they were having a book sale and we found (at $1 each) a copy of Saul Steinberg's All in Line (1945) and an Ellery Queen first edition. Then we dropped in on Antiques Downtown (88 S. Main St) and found a veritable treasure trove of Duncan glass (it used to be made nearby). We found a WWII cigarette case and a pair of "Willie and Millie" saltshakers. In the 1950s, Willie the Penguin was the "spokescartoon" for Kool Menthol Cigarettes. We will add this to our politically incorrect display of 1950s icons.
In the evening, we headed to Sunny Jims (Camp Horne Road in Emsworth). This place had been (in my youth) had been a roadhouse of notorious repute -- fast music and fast women... We were somewhat disapponted to find that it had been transformed into a squeaky clean sports bar. On the other hand, there was a very nice dance floor and we were just overwhelmed by William Dell and Wee Jams, an 11 piece rhythm band that played for a $3 cover. Our reputation had preceeded us in the form of Jerry, the DJ for the SCBC. We got to do yet another demo. And it was another really great nite.
We ended the evening with buckwheat cakes at Ritters Diner, a long-standing tradition.
Sunday April 26, 1998
After once again breakfasting at De Luca's, We spent the day in the south of Pittsburgh. We visited some of the great old "streetcar suburbs", and found a wonderful '50s lounge venue called The Suburban Room (3113 West Liberty Avenue, Dormont, 412-561-3088). The place has a flawless turquoise vitriolite facade that won an industrial design award in 1953. The "lobby" is blond wood and terazzo with a great bas relief glass scupture. Alas, the interior has been semi-updated, but the mahogany stramlined bar retains much of its class. The place features lounge acts, including a credible Dean Martin clone. This would make a perfect hangout for you lounge lizards, and the owner sure needs business. There is room for one couple at a time to dance. So, have a perpetual jam...
Our next stop was Canonsburg, the home of Perry Como. In 1931, the teenage and yet unknown Perry Como asked my mother for a date. Alas, my grandparents were ultra-strict, and she was unable to go. I do not, however, think that a week went by when my mother didn't tell that story... We hit upon something much grander, however: the Tri State Antique Center (47 W. Pike St, Canonsburg, 412-745-9116). This place is the MOTHER LODE of Heywood Wakefield furniture and of High End Art Deco objets d'art.
I found a pair of "Handy Flame" saltshakers (premiums given out by the gas company in the 50s) and a Countess Mara tie featuring jazz musicians. We went on to Houston, Pa and stopped at a small store where I found four more lewd ashtrays (see last week's report). Finally, we stopped at The Old Show in Meadowlands, Pa. (Just outside Del Millers ranch also named Meadowlands, where the world famous trotter Addios was bred.) My partner found a great 1940s suit dress.
We had dinner at Mineos Pizza, in the Mother location (2128 Murray Ave, Squirrel Hill, 412-521-9864). Thus, I have been able to show my partner the Truimvirate of Pizza - Vincent's, Beto's and Mineo's. They are all great!
From there we went to the Edgewood Club (1 Pennwood Ave, Edgewood, 412-731-3443) where we attended the regular Sunday night swing dance, featuring Benny Benack Jr. (Benny's father was a famous Pittsburgh musician who had a local hit in 1960 with the "Beat 'em Bucs" song). Some of our friends from the previous three nights were there and we did another demo. Unfortunately, they put on "Jersey Bounce" instead of "Flying Home". It was very painful to try to do our whole routine at that speed. Our apologies to the Edgewood crowd. We were fortunate to meet Rich and Alexis, the local swing webmasters in the 'Burgh. Check out their Swinging Pittsburgh website. The dance was over at 10:30, and we headed home to DC.
Vintage, Thrift and Dancing in Pittsburgh
We began Saturday with an early start for our weekend trip to Pittsburgh. As always, we take a break in Bedford, PA which is about the halfway point. This charming and historic town has a lot of very nice antique stores. It is also noteworthy as the home of Diane Broussard, of the Tuesday night Lindy crowd at Vienna Grill. Today, we had good hunting. At Lin's Touch of Elegance (238 E. Pitt Street, 814-733-4747) we found a nice cup and saucer from an old restaurant at $2. The place has six "Hoosiers" for sale in nice shape at reasonable prices. There is also an antique mall at the old G.C. Murphy store at the corner of Pitt and Bedford. We hit the jackpot there---we found an RCA-Victor 45 RPM maroon and gold record player in excellent condition at $25. This is not the common portable, but the kind that (in my time) the "rich kids"" had -- it has a cable output that allows it to serve as input to a component system. Next time we have a party, we can break out my collection of '45s and have a sock hop. We also found a copy of the sheet music to Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen at $1.
We fortified ourselves for the remaining trip at Gartner's Soda Fountain (Pitt Street) which has excellent root beer floats.
We made excellent time to Pittsburgh even taking into account the atrocious condition of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
We were sad to learn that many of our favorite dance venues had closed. Gene's Blues in the South Hills is no more; Fritz Roehler on Troy Hill has gone out of business; there is no longer dancing at the Edgewood Holiday Inn. We had missed a dance held by the Steel City Boppers the night before. I am afraid that the dance scene in Pittsburgh has taken a downward turn. It has been a year since we were in Pittsburgh and these changes were very disturbing. I sent some recommendations for these places to a reader and I am afraid that I now have egg on my face. Strangely, there is no shortage of swing music--just dance floors.
BUT, we were able to find some dancing! First, however, there was the mandatory trip to Vincent's Pizza Park (998 Ardmore Blvd in Forest Hills, 412-271-9181). In the 'Burgh, there is constant debate over the supremacy of Vincent's over Mineo's (2128 Murray Ave. in Squirrel Hill, 412-521-9864.) I am a fan of Vince's Neapolitan style pizza with all the vegetable toppings, especially if Vince himself is there to put it together for you. We did some bar-hopping to see some of our favorite bands. First, we went to the Holiday Inn in Oakland to see the Chuck Spatafore Little Big Band. These guys are great musicians, but we had to squeeze out a little dance space on a tile floor.
Next, we went to the North Side to see Chismo Charles and the Mystic Knights of the Sea at the James Street Restaurant (422 Foreland St, 412-232-2222). This band features Chismo's blues styling in which he roves the crowd with a remote mike, making passes at all the ladies and uttering his famous remark to all the dates, "I ain't talking to you." They do a fair number of jump numbers and we were able to make a 6' x 6' dance area to show the crowd a bit of Lindy. We missed the set in which they do their "Power Polka" mixing jump blues with amplified accordion.
Next, we went to the Balcony (5520 Walnut Street in Shadyside, 412-687-0110) to see Walt Harper. He has a great gang of musicians who have been around forever (he played my fraternity formal in 1965) We found a bigger dance floor there (carpeted, however). We were able to get through our whole routine. The band loved it and did more swing numbers for us. The guitarist was older, knew Lindy and even called out moves for us. For some reason (my partner had on a short skirt...) they wanted fish flips.
Saturday evening ended at Ritter's Diner (5151 Baum Blvd in Oakland, 412-682-4852), the late-nite eatery of choice that continues to enjoy a thoroughly diverse crowd of college students, swing shift workers and bon vivants. It is a good thing that some things haven't changed.
We began Sunday with breakfast at De Luca's Restaurant (2015 Penn Ave in the Strip, 412-566-2145). This is another one of those places that attracts a very diverse clientele. There is always a waiting line. It only takes a mention of the words "French Toast" to set my partner off--she had been talking about this delicacy for two weeks prior to our trip. The dish is made from Mancini's Italian Raisin Bread, dipped in egg, fried and then baked to puff up to perfection. The best thing is that it is only $2.95. De Luca's was a set for scenes in the film Passed Away.
After breakfast, we walked a few blocks to the Pittsburgh Regional History Center (13th and Smallman Streets, the Strip, 412-454-6000) The Center is housed in the renovated Chautauqua Lake Ice Company warehouse built in 1898. The 160,000 sq. ft brick building is supported by thick wood posts and beams connected by heavy iron braces. Vaulted brick ceilings on the first level were designed to support tons of ice brought into the building by railroad car. The building also housed stables and ice wagons.
I was delighted with the museum. On the first floor is a fully restored PCC Trolley Car painted in the cream and red color scheme of the Pittsburgh Railroad. I rode these for nearly twenty years, never even thinking about owning a car. The center has saved some of the notable neon signs from long-gone businesses such as the Isaly's dairy chain, Klein's Restaurant, the United States Steel Building, the Crawford Grille, and the Joseph Horne Department Store.
My partner was most taken with the exhibit of Pittsburgh Glass. I favored the recreation of the Crawford Grille and its enduring legacy to American Jazz and Swing. After Ray Keaney's parody of Massachusetts at Marie and Dave's wedding, I very much enjoyed a photo of Maxine Sullivan, a local Pittsburgh girl, who made the song her own. The exhibits focus on the extraordinary lives of ordinary people. The various floors contain re-constructions of houses that Pittsburgh people lived in from colonial times up to the present. I had mixed feelings about the suburban tract home of the 1950s, mainly because it looked just like our house when we moved "up" and "out" of the city, something that my mom hailed as an achievement. It is not a good thing to see your childhood in a museum.
From the museum, we walked through town, past the art deco Gulf Building and over the ornate Smithfield Street bridge with its unusual oval trusses, to Station Square, the restored complex of the old Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad. Our destination was the Festa Italiana and all the good food from Italian restaurants around the area. We enjoyed a lot of things that you just can't get any more, especially sinfully rich Sicilian desserts. We had a nice time watching the Flag Waivers of Sansepolcro, a troupe of dancers who reenact the medieval traditions of signalling with flags. We were treated to a dazzling array of complex maneuvers set to a military drum beat.
After the show, we were very pleased to find a dance floor and accordion music by Nino Patete. I like to make fun of the accordion, but it can make beautiful music in the hands of the right person--and Nino is a truly gifted virtuoso. He played wonderful Tango music and we were delighted to get up and show off the few steps that Tina Connor and Ellen and Marc had shown us. Of course, in Pittsburgh, that put us ahead of the crowd. Nino recognized or ochos and ganchos and asked us what we would like to hear next. Of course, the response was "Something that Swings!" I had never heard In the Mood on a solo accordion but Nino did a spectacular job. We actually had a real wood dance floor and we could do everything in our routine. We got a nice reception from the crowd, gave out lots of website cards and sat down. However, our rest was limited, because the next dances were polkas and waltzes. It was a very nice afternoon of dancing and the long walk back to the car reminded us of just how much work we had done.
We had dinner at Tessaro's (4601 Liberty Ave., in Bloomfield, 412-682-6809) a popular place for generations, specializing in charcoal grilled meat, fish and chicken. The house specialty is grilled beef ribs with their own special "atomic" hot sauce. They also make wonderful Caesar salads. Sundays in Pittsburgh are not great for night life, so we drove to the Hot Rod Cafe (412-981-3123) in Sharon, PA to see Blue Max and the Electric Eels. There is a medium size dance floor and we were able to get in a few Lindy dances although the prevailing mood was six-count.
We started Monday with an early breakfast at De Luca's (there really is no other rational choice, although we hate to repeat ourselves). From then, we walked to the Civic Arena for the start of the annual Labor Day Parade. This is a big thing in a union town like Pittsburgh. We walked down Olliver Street onto Liberty Avenue and to Point State Park where the Allegheny meets the Monongahela to form the Ohio River. We listened to several labor-oriented speeches and I found a tee shirt that says "Joe Hill is Not Dead". I was particularly interested in one speech that likened today's "cubicle workers" to the workers of the past -- arbitrary hours, job insecurity and powerlessness. Well, maybe if you are reading this at 8:00 pm after your boss has laid enough work on you for ten people, you should fantasize about calling the Teamsters...
After the parade, we made our way to Kennywood, the city's last surviving amusement park. When we arrived, I found that the only parking was at the top of a huge hill. On the other hand, a chair lift from a ski resort had been installed to carry people from their cars to the entrance. The ride is fairly long and the thing is about 100 feet off the ground. The lift stopped several times, leaving us swaying in the air above a sea of parked cars. I think that they do this for effect, just like leaving people at the top of the Ferris wheel. Of course, all the girls on the lift were screaming, and the guys were rocking the chairs. Amusement parks never change.
I was thrilled to see that the park has created a section called "Lost Kennywood" where several old rides have been restored. We started the day with the "Shoot the Chutes", a sort of water-borne roller coaster; a boat is hoisted up a track and then slides around a curve to plunge down a steep grade into a pool of water. Everyone gets soaked. Then we rode on "The Whip", a flat ride in which the wonderful art-deco cars are whirled at high speed around an oval track. The centrifugal force on the turns crushes the two people in the seat together. This was a favorite for dates in high school.
But, the main attraction at Kennywood is the wooden roller coasters. The Jack Rabbit is a high speed coaster that features a series of double dips. The Racer is just that -- two cars leave at the same time and travel roughly parallel to each other. It is always a thrill to see which car will come in first (it of course, depends on the total weight being carried in each car. Our indulgence in Pittsburgh's fine foods contributed to our car's victory...) But, the piece-de-resistance is the Thunderbolt, the finest roller coaster in the country. This coaster is built into the side of a hill and very little is visible. One boards the cars and the train pulls out through a little tunnel. I even conned my partner to sit in the front seat for this one. What you don't see is that at the end of that tunnel is a 190 foot 3G drop straight down. The surprise is everything. My partner was surprised. It was good that we did this before lunch.
No visit to Kennywood is complete without a hot dog and french fries from The Potato Patch. The aforementioned fries are so good that it is customary to wait in line for 35 minutes for them---and it is worth every minute. We heard the sounds of music from the picnic pavilions and were pleasantly surprised to find out that radio station WINX was having an all-day rock concert---and that a 50s band called Jericho's End was playing. One couple was on the dance floor doing a primitive jitterbug. We got up and said, "Is this what you're thinking of?" and then did our Lindy routine. So, we were able to get in some dancing even on Labor Day.
After throwing away some money on the hokey con-games and roaming through the "Penny" (read dollar) Arcade, we reluctantly headed out for the four hour drive home. It was certainly a nice way to end the summer. We stopped in Hancock Maryland for a traditional dinner at the Park and Dine Restaurant, a "must do" place if you are in the area.
Pittsburgh is a great place to visit for Vintage clothes and Thrift Shops. In general, the city is best for working class garments such as bowling shirts and tee shirts with unusual messages. There are, however, some stores which have high end vintage:
Thrift stores vary in quality, depending on their source material. The best are:
Other thrift stores are dicey and may yield treasure with a lot of effort:
This list in no way exhaustively covers vintage and thrift in Pittsburgh, a very rich hunting ground.
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