By Daniel H. Lavezzo III
It may make the world go 'round, but most of the time it just
makes the time pass a little better, I guess.
My family has been
involved with P. J. Clarke's for as long as I've been alive and
my father still holds his irregular court there regularly.
By the time, I settled
into the place it had a few traditions, not the least of which
was its relatively new-fangled jukebox with as eclectic a group
of songsters, like Patsy Cline, Lotte Lenya, Edif Piaf and both
the Hollidays (Billie and Judy), Fred Astaire, Chet Baker, Walter
Huston, Stubby Kaye and Hoagy Carmichael, as the bar's diverse
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Well, the old juke still
worked, but the old 45's were wearing thin and so a couple of
years ago, I jumped on the technology bandwagon and ordered a
Now things do change, even at Clarke's. A few years before,
we stopped putting huge blocks of ice in the shoulder-height
urinals in the men's room (that new patrons just can't seem to
locate directly opposite the bar despite its stained-glass, domed
ceiling. A lot of regulars said they missed the ice, but
begrudgingly accepted the sad truth that the old building really
didn't need to be flooded quite so often.
The new jukebox had a bit more dazzle than the old one, but it
was about the same size and many customers have not noticed the
change, which is important in the saloon business because regular
customers don't take too kindly to change.
Actually, the vendor came by with a new CD jukebox that
had a lot of bells and whistles and we tried it for a few days,
but the kids couldn't play it so we brought back the first one,
which is just the right height for kids for whom it's a toy.
But cabinets do not
make the good jukebox. It's what can be played that counts
and ensuring a smooth transition was no easy task as a lot of
our oldies were not readily available on CD.
Over the years, the
jukebox filled with a heavy dose of great show tunes from the
30's, 40's and 50's and a lot of the great big bands like Erskine
Hawkins, Louis Jordan and Hal Kemp, and some operatic arias by
Jussi Bjoerling and Richard Tauber, reflecting my father's taste
and the influence of some of the more intense regulars.
The jukebox vendors used to come around with their own supply
of records, but my father would go out and fill the jukebox with
what he liked.
My tastes certainly
did not find fault with most these great classics, but inevitably
I began to add a few of my favorites, which included a lot of
early jazz and some Brazilian music since I spent much of my
childhood in Brazil.
The CD technology not
only improves the sound, but also enables a much vaster selection.
But CD's also tend
to have a lot of selections that run longer than the old 45's
and that can be a real hassle in a restaurant or bar if one patron
slips a few dollars in to listen to some lengthy piece that may
not be to everyone's liking and test their patience for the next
song. We no longer have "The Wave" by Antonio
Carlos Jobim because most of the other selections on the CD it's
on are too long.
CD's are not programmed with jukeboxes in mind and as a result
some old favorites can no longer be heard at Clarke's.
I've spent a lot of
time running around town to the various music stores and collectors'
havens, such as Colony, Tower and Rizzoli, trying to find some
obscure CD and have had a fair bit of luck in getting some ordered
although I still haven't found a good CD version of "Bye,
Some of the very best
and most popular disks are on special anthology disks and a lot
of customers have to take out their glasses to read the fine
print. The CD's own cover is displayed, but I have to print
out on my computer the disc's track numbers and song details
on forms provided by the jukebox vender.
In quite a few instances,
we have versions of the same song such as "Some Enchanted
Evening" from "South Pacific," or "September
Song," and with Frank Sinatra we have him in versions on
his recent "Duets" disk with his earlier "Songs
for Swinging Lovers" and a lot of patrons will play
both for comparisons.
Naturally, there is
always a problem that some patron will just want to hear the
same song over and over, but that is pretty rare.
We get requests and
often when one of our favorite customers like Alice Faye,
or Joey Bushkin, or Tony Bennett comes out with a new disc, we
try to find a place for it on the jukebox.
A year or so ago, Joe
West, a National league baseball umpire, came in with a CD of
his country style singing, "Blue West," and we put
it on and a lot people play it.
In a multi-generational
place like Clarke's that has a very broad patron mix, of course,
it's just good policy to have a pretty wide range of styles and
we run a very wide gamut of tastes from early Scott Joplin and
Lee Wiley to Dr. John, Bonnie Raitt, Streisand and Sting.
We don't make much money on the jukebox, but
it was playing even during the end of the Stanley Cup final
Not everyone is satisfied, all the time. Some
of my best friends occasionally get up the courage to suggest
some additions or deletions, which usually results in an intense
listening session that is accentuatingly therapeutic.
I've only got room for 96 discs and probably
have at least another 960 goodies upstairs that I am eager to
get on the "box." Actually, there is room on this jukebox
for 100 discs, but I don't like the way it looks when the end
panels are flipped.
The most consistent complaint I get from
some friends is that I don't have many recent recordings
on tap, especially the Top 40. Hell, we're not a disco! We've
got a lot of history here and I really don't get many complaints
at all. We do have a suggestions and complaints box next to the
sidestreet entrance door, which frankly doesn't get much action
apart from the occasionally absurd suggestion that the paper
plates we serve the hamburgers on should be replaced with china.
They were good enough for Nat King cole, who called our bacon
cheeseburger the "Cadillac"!
The nice thing about he jukebox technology
now is that it can keep track of which songs, or tracks, have
Louis Armstrong's rendition of "What
a Wonderful World" consistently tops our unofficial, unpublished
chart and the first Gypsy Kings disc gets a lot of play as does
Patsy Cline, Basia and Sinatra.
I have not detected any particular patterns
of jukebox play based on the weather or time of day or national
mood. A lot depends on who's in the restaurant.
A lot of customers actually aren't aware
of the jukebox, but when they too discover it they get rather
fascinated by it and ask a lot of questions and some actually
Our bar is very wide and the jukebox is at
its eastern end at the entrance to the middle dining room so
it can get pretty crowded around it.
It's surprising how many customers never seem
to get the knack of slipping a dollar bill into its note quite
gaping receptacle and need help. The dollars make it a lot easier
on the bartenders, who used to have to make a lot change for
it and for the cigarette machine, which, because of the city's
new regulations, is now empty and unused. I had the vendor allow
the jukebox to give four, rather than just three, plays, for
a dollar sometime after my 93rd attempt to stop smoking.
We've got separate speaker channels for each
room, which we occasionally adjust.
Some patrons, of course, want the music to be
booming, but we're not that kind of place.
As much as we love music, we love conversation
I know the next question will be about the
"antique" cigarette machine and its peeling felt or
the less than shiny mirrors behind the bar, but have you heard....
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